Eleanor M Lloyd (2015) Good Autism Practice, 16 (2), p.49-68.
Current national strategies require children to be mainly taught in whole class groupings, this being particularly challenging for pupils with autism. This project investigated the possibility of achieving inclusion for children with autism via daily classroom-based sessions of ‘Communiplay’, which is based on Intensive Interaction (Communiplay differed from ‘traditional’ Intensive Interaction in that it takes place in small groups and is structured around play with LEGO, this being seen as inherently rewarding for pupils with autism, whilst also promoting child initiation and adult imitation in mutually enjoyable interactions).
The project involved 6 classes (of <30 pupils aged 5-7 years) in an inner-city mainstream school. The classes included one or more pupils with a language or socio-communicative disorder. The teaching staff were given a 70 minute training session on Intensive Interaction and Communiplay. Three Communiplay groups were formed in each class, consisting of: one ‘focus pupil’ with a diagnosis of SEN who was partnered with the adult for Intensive Interaction and 2 other pupils matched as play partners. The teacher and TAs participated in one Communiplay group each day.
Research design: This project combined qualitative elements with a quasi-experimental design, and collected data on the views of the teachers and TAs via a range of questionnaires, logs and observation schedules.
Findings: the findings of this study indicated ‘that Communiplay may be effective in strengthening positive staff-pupil relationships and the amount of pupil initiated interaction with staff’. Also the author states that ‘staff-pupil interactions in the class as a whole may have been positively influenced by the intervention, even though the majority of children did not participate in a Communiplay trio’.
10 elements were seen as relevant to the quality of pupils’ interactivity, these being:
1. An expectation of peer conversation
2. Staff being approachable and interested
3. A relaxed pace to arriving in class
4. Staff deliberately giving attention to focus pupils
5. Staff sitting at the child’s level and children interacting while standing
6. Pupils having freedom to choose from a range of activities
7. Mutual laughter
8. Informal physical contact conveying connection
9. Extended interactions
10. Staff being available to relate, rather than being busy with tasks.
The study also found that most staff were comfortable doing Communiplay in the classroom. However, the staff also found it impractical to fit 3 sessions into their daily schedules. Also the single training session on Intensive Interaction was viewed as insufficient to achieve consistency of practice. The difficulty teachers had fitting Communiplay into the timetable apparently indicated an unwillingness to prioritise it over other, more instructional, teaching tasks.
In conclusion: despite a number of acknowledged limitations to this study, the findings confirm the difficultly a class teacher has in making Intensive Interaction available in a mainstream classroom. According to the author, radical shifts are needed in staff preparedness, deployment and practice. Also a more individualised application of the National Curriculum is necessary to enable pupils with autism to develop their socio-communicative abilities.