Thinking about the ‘Topic’ of Intensive Interactions.

Quite often recently, during Intensive Interaction training sessions, I have found myself referring to a paper by communication consultant Philip Schweigert (then at the New Mexico School for the Blind and Visually Impaired). His 2012 paper, ‘Understanding the importance of the Partner in Communication Development for Individuals with Sensory and Multiple Disabilities‘ was published in the journal Perspectives on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (2012, Vol. 21, 167-173).

In this paper Schweigert points us very simply (which is why I like it) to four requirements for successful communication: 

1. a ‘means of expression’ to communicate with (for us using Intensive Interaction that’s via the Fundamentals of Communication)

2. a sender of a communication (well yes, obviously)

3. a receiver of that communication (well yes, obviously again!) … but then, perhaps most interestingly of all … 

4. a ‘topic’ i.e. something to be communicated about … and again, when you think about it, of course, that’s true … all communication has to have some content; it has to be about something.

So yes, the specific ‘topic’ aspect of Schweigert’s paper is the part that I find most interesting. It makes me think … when we are sociably engaging with someone using Intensive Interaction (enacted through the Fundamentals of Communication), what are we actually communicating about?  The topic isn’t something external or abstracted from the moment or the process e.g. last night’s telly or our favourite sports team (e.g. Huddersfield Town!)

No, on reflection, I suppose the topic is the person themselves and any shared experiences (current and past) that we (as an Intensive Interaction practitioner) have had with them. We are talking to them, and with them, about them … and about our interest in the things they are currently doing … and also I suppose, about the dynamic form and quality of our mutual relationship. We really don’t need anything else; we together, ‘in the moment’, are all the means and the topic we need.

Surely for most of us, ‘we’ and our experiences are the main thing we generally like to talk about. We like to engage in a process of sociable (but generally functionally useless) chit-chat. As humans, we like to do this a lot, it seems to be hard-wired into us; especially so with those around us who are genuinely interested in us and our well-being.  

So, interestingly again (I think), if Intensive Interaction is the ‘means of expression‘ it can also form the basis of the ‘topic‘ as well … two aspects in one, because it is the ‘how’ of how we are communicating, and it is the content (or topic) based on our ‘in the moment’ shared experiences, with these being a reflection of the person and their current (often pre-symbolic) behavioural repertoire. Interestingly again (I think), it also takes on a more overtly developmental perspective, when Schweigert states that: 

Before we can talk about symbolic communication for children with multiple and sensory disabilities, we must consider their presymbolic foundation and specifically their communicative intent. In order for such learners to develop an understanding of communication and their ability to influence others through their own behaviour, they must demonstrate a means of expression that others can detect and respond to. Means of expression must encompass not just the symbolic forms, but also the presymbolic forms. Behaviours such as a slight turn of the head, orientation of the body, change in respiration, or opening/closing of the eyes that are more subtle and difficult to detect also must be considered’.

I’m not sure if he knows it, but that looks a lot like Intensive Interaction!

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