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  As early as 1986, federal legislation began to focus on providing services to children with special needs within their "natural environments".
In the field of early intervention, the term "natural environment" first appeared in the Federal Register in 1989 in regulations for the Education of the Handicapped Act Amendments of 1986 (Public Law 99-457). The term appeared in the law for the first time in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 1991 (Public Law 102-119) and later strengthened in the 1997 amendments of IDEA (Public Law 105-17). IDEA was reauthorization again in 2004, effective July 1, 2005.
The emphasis on services in natural environments in the 1997 Amendments was not intended to just change the location of service delivery, but to change the focus of early intervention from working directly with children to supporting families to meet the developmental needs of their children. The re-authorization challenged states to review programmatic and fiscal policies as they relate to service provision in natural environments. It has also forced states to recognize in policy that natural environment does not just mean where services are delivered, but how they are delivered.
Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Amendments of 2004 continues to emphasize natural environments. The IDEA Reauthorization of 2004 states that to the maximum extent appropriate, early intervention services are provided in natural environments; and the provision of early intervention services for any infant or toddler with a disability occurs in a setting other than a natural environment that is most appropriate, as determined by the parent and the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) team, only when early intervention cannot be achieved satisfactorily for the infant or toddler in a natural environment. [SEC. 635 (a)(16)(A)(B)]
Research findings point out many benefits to providing services in the natural environment and suggest that this approach is the most effective way to promote early development and inclusion. Advances in practice reflect what we have learned from family preferences and research, and many of these practices have predated and even influenced legislative policy. These advances in practice are marked by the growing number of national organizations and professional associations that have articulated position statements and endorsements that encourage this approach.