Sam’s Story: evaluating intensive interaction in terms of its effect on the social and communicative ability of a young child with severe learning difficulties

Kellett, M. (2000) Support for Learning 15 (4), 165 – 171.

This research paper concerns a single case study that was part of a larger, more comprehensive longitudinal study of the use of Intensive Interactionin the early education of children with severe learning disabilities.

The Participant

 Sam was a five year old boy at a community special school, and he was half way through his reception class year. His communication abilities were judged to be ‘at the very early pre-verbal stage’ and he was indicated by the school staff as living ‘in a world of his own’. He did not use any symbolic language or formal signs, made no eye contact with other people and appeared not to observe, nor respond to, other peoples’ facial signalling. He often engaged in self-stimulatory behaviour such as ‘finger play and repetitive jiggling’.

The Method & Findings

Using a ‘multiple-baseline interrupted time series methodology’ combined with weekly systematic video-recorded observation over a period of one academic year, the author shows just how much progress Sam made after the initiation of daily 10 minute sessions of Intensive Interaction. Also employed for data generation were two published assessment measures; Kiernan and Reid’s Pre-Verbal Communication Schedule, and an adaptation of Brazelton’s Cuddliness Scale.

From this research the major claims made for Sam’s observed responses to the Intensive Interactionintervention included:

  • ‘Huge steps’ forward for Sam in ‘Looking at or towards a partner’s face’.
  • ‘Modest progress’ in the incidence of ‘social physical contact’.
  • Sam’s ability to ‘attend to a joint focus or activity with the teacher… developed dramatically’.
  • ‘Clearly evident’ progression for Sam in the incidence of ‘eye contact’.
  • Sam’s vocalisations ‘changed considerably’ and he ‘began to use his vocalising ability to respond contingently and to initiate contact’.
  • A highly significant increase in the time Sam spent ‘engaged in social interaction’.

Some Discussion

In conclusion, the author cautions against generalising too much from the findings of this single case study. However, with this study the author shows how slow progress can be made visible for one of her participating pupils in a non-comparative or judgemental way. Furthermore, although the paper carries a serious academic message, and delivers vitally important evidential backing for the use of Intensive Interaction, it does so in such an optimistic and engaging way that it would be difficult not to be uplifted and personally moved by reading it.

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