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Natural supports can be defined as personal connections and associations that improve the quality of a person’s life; these primarily include family relationships and friendships and constitute “the first line of supports, followed by informal and community supports” (Duggan & Linehan, 2013, p. 200). Identifying natural supports and recognizing them as sources of assistance can help people improve their everyday lives at home and at work.
In my life, the primary natural support is my family. In a general sense, having an understanding family environment, in which concerns can be shared and discussed, and solutions can be suggested, is very helpful. Even the mere awareness that there are people who are close to you, care about you, and will help you with any problems you may face without judging you or demanding anything in return is very comforting and encouraging.
In a narrower sense, family support can come in various forms. Duggan and Linehan (2013) argue that a major role of family members as natural supports is that they help individuals achieve personal goals and do so unconditionally, on the basis of personal ties, rather than in exchange for anything (e.g., other types of support for people with disabilities can come from paid caregivers). For me, family support is not limited to home but also extends to my work; I know that my family members want me to succeed and are ready and willing to assist me when I am overwhelmed.
A specific form of family-related natural supports is family events. We may not even discuss problems or seek solutions during such meeting (but rather simply celebrate), but the very idea that many people give up their plans to attend these meetings (because they realize how important family is and often put it first) makes me feel like there are always people I can ask for help and receive it.
Another type of natural supports is friendship. I have noticed that the company of friends is a very supportive environment regardless of what you are doing together. When I am stressed or frustrated (e.g., from work), I can meet my friends and complain to them, and it makes me feel better, or I can meet them and simply have fun talking about something completely different than my personal problems, and it makes me feel better, too. I think it is important that friends are not only supportive but also can be critical; they will comfort you, but then they will tell you that perhaps you were wrong in a certain situation or you did something unwise and maybe you should fix it. Since those are friends who I know want the best for me, I can easily take criticism from them.
Not only current friendships are natural supports but also new ones. Duggan and Linehan (2013) stress the importance of making friends in the context of natural supports. I think that friendships can be much harder to maintain than family ties; only extremely dramatic events can make two family members drift apart, while friends are much more easily lost.
Making new friends, getting to know each other better, sharing personal stories, and maintaining good relationships despite differences have always been meaningful and enjoyable experiences for me. Having friends at work is especially helpful because working environments can often be pressuring, and being able to simply talk about work to a colleague who is also a friend is an important source of support.
Duggan, C., & Linehan, C. (2013). The role of ‘natural supports’ in promoting independent living for people with disabilities: A review of existing literature. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41(3), 199-207.