The Waiting List, Part 3

The Waiting List

Building Supports Independent of Funding

This post is part of an educational series exploring Medicaid waivers and the challenges people with I/DD face when trying to secure Medicaid funding for home and community-based care.

Readers following our waiting list series may be wondering what they can do to provide a meaningful life for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities while they are on a waiting list.

The answer is natural supports.

Natural supports are the relationships and activities that occur in everyday life.

They can be a who – friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, community members, church members or volunteers – or a what – social events, volunteer experiences, family events, recreation activities, group or club participation, church service, community events or work.

Unlike formal supports that involve some form of payment for services, natural supports are not dependent upon funding or eligibility, and are therefore crucial for those on waiting lists.

Who are Natural Supports?

“When you think about natural supports, they’re just like any other relationship,” said Brenda Sims, senior training business partner at Mosaic. “The possibilities are limitless based on the connections you make. The idea is: how can you help people without relying on payments? Because those payments may not always be there for them.”

While the definition of natural supports is pretty straightforward, cultivating these supports can be a bit more complicated, especially for people with I/DD.

“Building supports is the tough part,” Sims said. “Many people with I/DD either lose touch with or have never developed relationships with people who are not paid to be with them. The challenge is finding those people in the community who want to make that connection.”

“It’s also a challenge to connect with people who can provide supports that match an individual’s interests,” she added. “It might start with hobbies. People can get involved in some kind of club and connect with someone there.”

In the past, stereotypes about people with I/DD have created barriers to natural supports, but Sims said she hopes these stereotypes have gone away.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of with people with disabilities,” she said. “It’s okay to approach them and talk to them. It’s about embracing them like anyone else.”

“The more people with disabilities have a chance to be out and about in the community, the better,” she added. “It’s the best way for people to have exposure.”

However, simply being physically integrated into community settings does not guarantee that adults with I/DD will establish desired social relationships with community members.

What are Natural Supports?

According to a report from the University of Minnesota, one of the most powerful contributors to the establishment of friendships for people with I/DD is regular, ongoing social interaction with the same people.

Therefore, joining a club or group where members interact regularly, such as playing cards or working together on community projects, is much more likely to result in the development of social relationships than attending single passive community events such as sporting events or movies.

This puts some burden on family members, guardians and providers to ensure that people with I/DD have access to and participate in activities that take place frequently.

However, according to Sims, “It’s also important that people with disabilities build those relationships on their own without relying on a third party to be the glue.”

Often, the need for natural supports increases when people with I/DD are transitioning out of the school system, which happens at age 21. However, Sims said there’s no need to reinvent the wheel during this transition period.

“When people hit adult services, we tend to forget they had a life prior to age 21,” she said. “The question is: how do we keep them connected to friends from school or teachers that had an impact? For parents, how do you keep your loved one connected to people who were significant in their life up to that point? Who were their friends? Were they part of any teams or clubs? Life doesn’t need to start over at age 21.”

As waiting lists continue to grow, natural supports are needed now more than ever.

“The waiting list just keeps getting longer and longer, so it’s important to help people maintain relationships as they wait for services,” Sims said. “My dream is that when their name comes up for services, they won’t need them anymore because they already have all the supports they need from family, friends and community partners.”

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a natural support, please fill out our contact form, check the “volunteering” box and we’ll connect you with the Mosaic agency in your area.

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