Using Intensive Interaction to add to the palette of interactive possibilities in teacher-pupil communication

Barber, M. (2008) European Journal of Special Needs Education, 23 (4), 393-402.

In 2003 Intensive Interaction was introduced to Bayside Special Developmental School in Melbourne, Australia. The school had 80 pupils with moderate to profound learning disabilities (aged from 2-18 years).  Class sizes varied from 4 to 8 pupils staffed by one teacher and one support worker.

After initial staff training 11 pupils were selected for the study, the selection criteria including the pupils’ communication difficulties, high levels of social isolation, as well as ‘large amounts of time spent in ritualised, self-oriented behaviours’. Baseline videos of at least five minutes length were made for each pupil showing them in group activities and ‘individual teaching sessions’. 

Intervention: During a 30 week period staff interacted with pupils using Intensive Interaction, rather than task or outcome focused activities. These interactions were often initiated by pupils themselves during “downtime” and informal periods. Staff observed the activities that appeared to lead to increased sociability and positive affect.

Evaluation: Staff moderated video footage to reflect on their success during the process. Videos of 6-15 minutes were rated for the following “indicators of involvement” (adapted from Kellett & Nind, 2003): “No interactive behaviour”; “look at face”; “smile”; “socially directive physical contact”; and “engaged”.

The data collected appeared to show an increase in the social interactivity and engagement for the pupils. The periods of “no interactive behaviours” also decreased between the baseline and evaluation period. There was also an increase in pupils initiating social contact with their communicative partner. Things like physical proximity, touch, turn taking and interactive game playing increased much more after the intervention period. It was noted that student “J” regularly used touch as a communication tool and student “A” was prompted to use touch a lot more as a result of the support worker’s use of spinning saucers.

It was noted that the students (all with ASD) appeared to want to socially engage the communicative partner, not communicate purely functionally.

Conclusion: The report recognises that, while the results are limited, it appears to show the positive effects of adopting Intensive Interaction in schools as a means of increasing the sociability and expression of pupils with profound and multiple learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorder. The paper also acknowledges the effect that teachers can have when they employ Intensive Interaction. Teachers are not as limited when a session is not outcome focused, and this makes a session more enjoyable for both teacher and pupil, and more satisfying interactions take place when the teacher responds to the student’s individual behaviours.

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