For my blog this week I am once again summarising a really interesting chapter from the book ‘Intensive Interaction Theoretical Perspectives‘ (Ed: Hewett, D. 2011) that I have been rereading recently. This time it is a chapter by Dr Suzanne Zeedyk: Wired for Communication and how the neuroscience of infancy helps in understanding the behaviours of Intensive Interaction.
According to Dr Zeedyk ‘the psychological and neurological sciences have, over the past several decades, revealed two key insights about human development. These are that infants come into the world already connected to other people, and that the pathways in their brains are literally moulded by the responses they receive from those around them’.
These findings ‘go a long way towards explaining why Intensive Interaction, and other interactive approaches like it, are effective in nurturing the communicative abilities of individuals struggling to engage with others’, and pointing to an infant’s innate communicative behaviours, she states that ‘... a neonate’s ability to imitate is an ‘emotional process’ and ‘imitative exchanges are not acts of copying, but moments of sharing’.
The brain grows ‘more rapidly between conception and 3 years that it ever will again’ and ‘is shaped by the experiences that infants have of the world around them, especially social experiences’. Dr Zeedyk then goes on to explain that there are 3 main stages in brain development, firstly 0-3 years, which is the period of most rapid development, next 5-12 years, when the development ‘shifts to strengthening further the existing connections, a process known as myelination’ and finally during adolescence, when ‘the brain has one last burst of synapse creation … while sharply increasing its rate of pruning synapses,’ those synapses that ‘are never used, are sloughed off’.
According to Dr Zeedyk though, ‘… play is crucial to neural generation. It needs to be free play: active, unstructured, dynamic, relaxed’.
Dr Zeedyk states that the scientific knowledge of neural development ‘enrich our understanding of why Intensive Interaction works’. She goes on to list the reach of the approach across many different client groups and states that the approach ‘transcends any specific disorder and taps into deeper qualities that are central to our experiences, as persons relating to other persons’. She goes on to state that that the ‘match’ of body movements within Intensive Interaction exchanges sub-consciously ‘generates trust, intimacy, spontaneously and a sense of safety’ and this ‘process is so fundamental that it applies across all age groups and all diagnostic categories’.
Dr Zeedyk also claims that one way to explain the effectiveness of Intensive Interaction is to see it as tapping into the mirror neuron systems as discovered by Rizzollatti’s Italian research team. Mirror neurons ‘fire both when a person has an experience or observes a similar experience occurring in another person’, therefore Intensive Interaction can create ‘a context in which existing capacities can flourish’.
Conceptual rethink: ‘The nature of autism: does Intensive Interaction point towards a richer understanding?’
Due to the positive outcomes of Intensive Interaction for people with autism i.e. being able to ‘look at their partner’s face, anticipate their response, laugh, tease and take joy in their partners engagement’ Dr Zeedyk suggests ‘the need for an alternative explanation of autism’. She points to Caldwell’s (2006) ‘sensory account of autism’, where hypo and hypersensitivities are problematic for people with autism, and where an environmental change can reduce distress and allow social and communicative capacities to be demonstrated.
Early diagnosis of developmental delay: how important is it?
Finally Dr Zeedyk states that early diagnosis of developmental delay is ‘incredibly important’, and that due to the scientific understanding of brain development it is possible that ‘we may be unintentionally exacerbating autistic tendencies and learning difficulties’.
She believes that with very early diagnosis ‘we have a chance to change children’s life courses for the better, to alter their very biology and brain structure’… and that ‘Intensive Interaction lets us, if we let it, begin to really understand the transformative power of emotional connection’.
Powerful thoughts and words indeed!