‘Intensive Interaction: an evaluation of two different recording formats’

Shearer, K. & Parkhouse, C. (2020) ‘Intensive Interaction: an evaluation of two different recording formats‘, Good Autism Practice, 21 (2), p. 23-32.

The authors of this paper, two experienced Intensive Interaction teachers, wanted to study ways to ‘identify and record the effects of its [Intensive Interaction’s] use within the school’. Therefore, they trialled two recording systems within their UK special school. These were:

1. A ‘Diary Entry’ (DE) system with sections of: ‘Description of the session’; ‘Significant occurrences …’; ‘Evaluate your performance …’; and ‘Other comments and observations …’ – this diary format often being referred to as a ‘Session Sheet’(see Ref 1). The Diary Entry (DE) was chosen because of ‘its strong reflective element’ and ‘its unstructured nature’.

2. The ‘Engagement Profile’ (EP) as developed by a CLDD* research project and designed to increase the curricular engagement of complex learners (see Ref 2). In this study the EP was used without an associated scale to create a simpler, purely qualitative recording tool. This tool asks staff to record actions and outcomes into 7 categories: Responsiveness, Anticipation, Discovery, Persistence, Initiation, Investigation, and Curiosity (N.B. following the Rochford Review (2016) reporting in English special education using such an ‘Engagement Model’ will soon become compulsory (DoE, 2020)).

Methods: the study was carried out over one term, with 20 teaching staff (most new to Intensive Interaction). The staff attended an initial training session and chose a ‘focus pupil’ with an Education and Health Care plan. 10 staff were given a DE format to use, the other 10 the EP. The staff attended fortnightly study workshops, with informal in-class support given throughout the term.


  • Use of vocabulary and language within the recording tools:

The study found that the greatest factor influencing the quality of descriptions used in either system seemed to be the staff’s own vocabulary. Also, specific actions were more often reported in the EP, although EP entries tended to include less context and ascribe less ‘meaning’ to any interactions. The EP system seemed better at evidencing progress e.g. behaviours initially classified as ‘initiation’ later being recorded as ‘anticipation’. Some users wrote very little in the EPs, but as it was automatically categorised it then acquired greater meaning. Some staff using the DE tool at times gave less graded entries such as ‘no engagement’ or ‘full engagement’.

  • Variability in the quality of the data:

The DE records were more variable in quality than in the EPs, ranging from very detailed, to sparse or even negative. DE records often included conjecture or opinion, whereas the EP prompted staff to write down some basic observations. However, the EP did not encourage much in the way of staff reflection (this potentially being a limitation), although it did require staff to input data into a particular engagement area, making them think about a behaviour in several ways e.g. if an instance of eye contact should be recorded as Initiation, Anticipation or Curiosity.

  • Greater mention of context in the Diary Entries (DE):

In some cases the DEs gave more detail about the context for an interaction than the EPs e.g. “continued looking … longer than last week.” Comments on the interactions outside of the session were also more likely in the DEs e.g. “starting to interact more at home with brother…”. Also, DE users sometimes adopted a longer, more narrative style, also recording more interpretations and feelings e.g. “She’s the most responsive I’ve ever seen her”; some such entries being ‘descriptive but not analytical’.

Discussion: one important outcome of using the recording tools was that both appeared to enhance the importance of Intensive Interaction within the curriculum. It also encouraged staff reflection and analysis, with staff becoming more able to identify small or subtle steps of progress. After the study most staff continued to use one or other of the formats, providing evidence of their utility. However, the authors suggested that the two tools be combined ‘to harness the strengths of both’.

School pressures: This study also showed the difficulties of including Intensive Interaction in a school setting. Some ways to ‘safeguard’ Intensive Interaction were identified:

  • ensuring that pupils have EHCP targets focused on Intensive Interaction  
  • having dedicated Intensive Interaction spaces (e.g. soft play areas/sensory rooms) and time slots
  • for staffing to be organised to facilitate one to one working with pupils … and to support consistent responses to pupils’ initiations/communications
  • to create a culture of recognising and respecting the Intensive Interaction process
  • to ensure that any recording tool used does not require too much staff time

Some concluding comments: according to the authors, neither the DE nor the EP provided any quantitative or comparative data. The data produced was often lengthy, requiring it to be read ‘as a case study’ to understand any progress made. However, the authors felt that the value lay in encouraging staff ‘to assess, review and reflect’ and as such, it should become ‘a professional development tool as much as an assessment tool’.

Ref 1: Mourière, A. & McKim, J. (2017) Integrating Intensive Interaction: developing communication practice in services for children and adults with severe Learning Difficulties, profound and multiple Learning Difficulties and autism. London: Routledge.

Ref 2: Carpenter, B. & Egerton, J. (2011) Engagement profile and scale: The Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities* research project: Developing meaningful pathways to personalised learning, DoE – available at: www.complexneeds.org.uk/modules/Module-3.2-Engaging-in-learning—key-approaches/All/downloads/m10p040c/engagement_chart_scale_guidance.pdf

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