Getting in touch with our feminine sides? Men’s difficulties and concerns with Intensive Interaction

Culham, A. (2004) British Journal of Special Education, 31 (2), 81-88.

Methodology: This research addressed a number of issues faced by male practitioners using Intensive Interaction (Intensive Interaction) Using both questionnaires and interviews, data was gathered from over 35 practitioners, including F.E. lecturers, teachers, day-centre staff, psychologists, and speech & language therapists. Over half of the practitioners questioned had between 2 to over 10 years experienced in Intensive Interaction (the others having only limited experience of the approach).

General Results: The majority of practitioners reported using Intensive Interaction with students/clients with severe and profound learning disability, and a minority reported used the approach with a other groups of people such as those with sensory disabilities, emotional and behavioural difficulties, neurological difficulties, retirement home residents, clients with autism and people who were electively mute. The majority of respondents reported using Intensive Interaction as a ‘vehicle’ to support various sessions across the curriculum. Many noted that Intensive Interaction worked very well in supporting curriculum areas such as independence skills, sensory activities, and basic skills. The remaining practitioners, including psychologists, day-centre staff, residential support workers and parents, used Intensive Interaction as a communication tool with their clients.

Some respondents identified a difficulty with the lack of clear criteria or standards in Intensive Interaction Some respondents found it difficult to reverse the traditional didactic teaching methods of their initial training, and found communication with the student as ‘an equal’ difficult. Some respondents regarded the development of professional and practical skills through the use of Intensive Interaction as a primary benefit. Reported gains included improvements in communication styles, teamwork and collaboration; greater knowledge of students; and curriculum development. Many of the respondents felt that they needed more training and guidance with the practical skills of Intensive Interaction, and some observed that too much time was spent intellectualising the approach and not enough time developing practical, classroom-based skills.

One teacher noted that parents are very supportive and are often astounded at Intensive Interaction’s results: ‘It works… parents, many of whom like to become involved with developing their child’s communication, can see it work for their children.’ A third of those questioned regarded ‘developing relationships’ as a distinct benefit of Intensive Interaction At least half of these respondents enjoyed the freedom that Intensive Interaction afforded them – an F.E. lecturer remarked: Intensive Interaction allows me to engage with my students in a way that is uncharacteristic of my normal teaching practice, to sit back and enjoy the ride.’

For some it was the creation of ‘communication opportunities’ that was the most rewarding aspect of using Intensive Interaction with people with learning disabilities: ‘For the first time, I am able to enjoy another human being’s company for its own sake.’ However, a third of respondents indicated a concern with the negative perceptions and attitudes held by ‘mainstream’ staff, from various agencies, with regard to the value and appropriateness of Intensive Interaction. One practitioner remarked: ‘I find the reaction of others, who do not understand the individual and the procedure of communicating with them, difficult. Some people are unable to see the depth of both the students and Intensive Interaction and pass a judgement of failure or irrelevance.’

Results pertaining to being a male practitioner: Half of the respondents reported that the issues of touch, working with female students and the fear of allegations of sexual assault have prevented them from doing Intensive Interaction One practitioner noted: ‘My practice of Intensive Interaction is limited due to my fears and unease of working with female clients at the house.’ Another respondent noted that his team has had numerous staff development sessions regarding physical touch and gaining permission to touch, which had assisted male members of the team to be more comfortable around students/clients: ‘The whole business about touch… male practitioners need to feel reasonably secure, that they know what the boundaries are and that they know what the establishment rules are on permission.’

Another issue arising concerned support: the level and success of support was seen as dependent upon individual teams, personalities and managers. A respondent noted the difficulties around peer support: ‘I feel slightly uncomfortable in certain situations because of the male/female divide … but I try not to let this affect my practice.’ Managerial support of Intensive Interaction practitioners was also a concern: whilst some celebrated their manager’s proactive work and support, many questioned their manager’s understanding of Intensive Interaction Lack of support from line managers and senior members caused some staff distress, alienation and in some instances ridicule. One therapist reported that ‘Some senior managers can be dismissive of what we do.’

The male practitioners revealed that, on average, only 20% of the team they worked with were male. Also, one respondent noted that many of his female colleagues looked to him to take responsibility for discipline and restraint, possibly because of his gender.

Conclusions: Although it isn’t always clear what difficulties relate specifically to maleness, and what difficulties exist for practitioners of either gender, this research clearly illustrates the need of male practitioners for further support and development in the area of Intensive Interaction

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