The Effect of Intensive Interaction on the Sociability of a Man with Severe Intellectual Disabilities

Lovell, D., Jones, S. & Ephraim, G. (1998) Int. Journal of Practical Approaches to Disability, 22 (2/3), 3-8.

The Participant: This research was conducted to investigate whether a withdrawn, 53-year-old pre-verbal man (W.) with severe intellectual disabilities showed an increase in sociable behaviour in two differing conditions. In one, a clinical psychologist engaged in Intensive Interaction with the client; in the second, the same psychologist remained close to the client but did not interact with him (‘proximity sessions’). The research was conducted in a long stay hospital for people with severe intellectual disabilities.

The Results: before the interventions, the client (W.) would hum to himself and sing without words. He spent most of his time sitting alone in a corner and did not initiate any physical contact.

However, there was much more physical contact in the Intensive Interaction sessions, and in one session he squeezed the psychologist’s hands as part of a game for 90% of the time (he did also make occasional physical contact during the proximity sessions).

Before the interventions W. spent less than 10% of any session looking at another person. In some proximity sessions there was an increased in looking behaviour, but, during the Intensive Interaction sessions more than 10% of every session was spent looking at somebody, with over 70% on two occasions.

During the course of the intervention, vocalisation (humming or wordless singing) appeared to increase in both the Intensive Interactionand the proximity sessions.

Also no episodes of joint attention were recorded prior to the interventions. With just one recorded instance of joint attention in the proximity sessions. Episodes of joint attention were, however, observed during the Intensive Interactionsessions, increasing to over 70% on two occasions.

No smiling or laughing was recorded prior to the interventions. However, W. was noticed to smile and laugh during 2 proximity sessions, but more often during Intensive Interactionsessions.

W. covered his face with his clothes for 25 to 50% of the time prior to the interventions. This behaviour was only briefly evident on one of the 17 intervention sessions (during a proximity session). There were no occurrences in the Intensive Interactionsessions.

Some Discussion: the results of this research indicated that during the Intensive Interaction sessions W. tended to initiate more physical contact; spend more time looking at people; demonstrate more joint attention, and smile/laugh and vocalise more than he did prior to the interventions. He showed no examples of covering his face during the Intensive Interaction sessions, although this had been a frequent behaviour previously. The increase in sociability appeared to generalise to the proximity sessions, although the changes were significantly less marked than during Intensive Interaction. The nursing staff who regularly worked with W. also commented that during the interaction period W. appeared happier and more willing to interact than he had been before. His increased sociability also seemed to generalise from the Intensive Interaction setting to other contexts.

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