Intensive Interaction and autism: a useful approach?

Nind, M. (1999) British Journal of Special Education, 26 (2), 96–102.

This article addressed the potential usefulness of Intensive Interaction (I.I.) for pupils whose learning disabilities are compounded by autism. It begins with a general outline of Intensive Interaction, describing it as an approach to ‘communication’ suitable for children and young people with the most severe learning disabilities, who have not readily made relationships, established informal communication or who are unable to access the set curriculum.

Nind points out that there had been no focus on Intensive Interaction as an approach to meeting the specific difficulties and needs of learners with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). She states that the need to address the relevance of Intensive Interaction for those individuals with a learning disability and autism as a separate group has arisen for two reasons: firstly the nature of the autistic condition – personal relatedness with others has been seen as a central impairment in the autistic condition; and secondly, much of the literature on autism emphasises an innate inability to learn from natural interactive processes.

Nind briefly discusses the range of intervention processes used with people with autism spectrum disorders, differentiating between ‘special’ and ‘naturalistic’ approaches. Whilst the challenging nature of many individuals with autism has encouraged a focus on ‘special’ intervention processes, such as TEACCH and Lovaas therapies, there are those who have recognised the benefits of a non-directive interactive style. The article goes on to say that naturalistic approaches do not dominate in the current climate however, where the focus remains on direct training and behavioural intervention. Nind recognises that not all practitioners in the field have shared the implicit assumption that those with learning disabilities and autism are part of the target group for Intensive Interaction

To argue the case for Intensive Interaction she draws on both theoretical and empirical perspectives. The premise that underlies Intensive Interaction is that learning to communicate is not like learning a basic skill, which can be task analysed, with constituent sub-skills taught separately in a structured programme. Becoming an intentional communicator involves learning about oneself and others, learning that we can have an effect on others and that we can share meaning (Harding, 1982). To be effective communicators, we have to want to communicate and have a concept of what communication is all about. Nind argues that the best and possibly only model we have which addresses the development of the desire to communicate with others is in caregiver-infant interaction. The only teaching approach based on this model is Intensive Interaction

The empirical evidence cited by Nind looked at the usefulness and appropriateness of Intensive Interaction for learners with autism. In this paper Nind considers a single case study, a series of narrative case studies and lastly questionnaire and interview data from teachers using Intensive Interaction The case study looked at an adult (Kris), who was diagnosed with autism at the age of four. Intensive Interaction was used with him over a 12-month period when he was 28, and any developments measured. Nind notes that there were specific new developments noticed in Kris, which she associates with the introduction of Intensive Interaction These included a greater interest in watching people and moulding and relaxing when cuddled.

The narrative case studies presented provide weak empirical evidence in that there were no structured observations, but they do complement the study of Kris with their rich descriptions and reflections. This section describes the attempts of staff and parents to use Intensive Interaction with two boys, both of whom are diagnosed with autism. Both accounts discuss how Intensive Interaction was introduced, and the resulting developments from using this approach. Such developments included giving sustained attention, initiating contact and allowing others to share in activities.

The last body of evidence that Nind looked at was a study that aimed to identify examples of good practice of Intensive Interaction This study provided data looking at the views of practitioners using this approach. Questionnaires were sent to a number of special schools and units in England, looking at the usefulness of using the approach. Results from these questionnaires identified benefits of using Intensive Interaction for both pupils and staff. Benefits for pupils included self-motivation, improved communication and the development of relationships. Benefits for staff included improved observation abilities and feeling more positive about the children. Follow-up interviews conducted with seven teachers offered rich observations to support the questionnaire data. Nind notes an interesting pattern that emerged from the findings. Staff did not seem to be concerned about the debate as to whether an interactive approach would make it harder for those with autism to learn. Instead, the decision to use Intensive Interaction was based on an assessment of the individual child and the perception of their needs, regardless of whether they had autism or a learning disability.

Finally Nind observes that despite the current emphasis in Special Education on the National Curriculum, interactive approaches continue to develop and be important both in the general field of learning disabilities and concerning individuals on the autistic spectrum. The article concludes that there is every reason for Intensive Interaction to be adopted as a useful and effective strategy for working with individuals whose learning disabilities are compounded by autism.

%d bloggers like this: