‘Mothers’ experience of Intensive Interaction’ – a research paper

Berridge, S. & Hutchinson, N. (2021), ‘Mothers’ experience of Intensive Interaction’, Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 26(2), p.391–406.

Abstract & Method: noting that there is limited research into parents using Intensive Interaction, in this qualitative research study 6 mothers (who used Intensive Interaction with their children with intellectual disabilities and/or autism) were interviewed. The data from the interviews were analysed using an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) methodology.

The Results: from the IPA analysis of the interview data there emerged 10 ‘subordinate’ themes, which were then organised into 4 overarching ‘superordinate’ themes. These ‘superordinate’ themes were: ‘The Connection’, ‘Bittersweet’, ‘Fighting for Support’ and ‘Challenging Underlying Low Expectations & Stigma’ (illustrated below with verbatim interview extracts).

1. The Connection:

Participants differed in the extent to which they experienced that Intensive Interaction affected the connection they felt with their child. For some, it seemed that Intensive Interaction did not have a large impact as it was felt that connection and reciprocity were already present. Others experienced Intensive Interaction as having a powerful impact.

Already having a connection: it’s what we’ve always done ‘We’re just naturally doing that because that is our way of communicating.’

Finally feeling connected: ‘she did a glance over, it was the first time she … she’d looked at me since eleven months of age’.

2. Bittersweet:

When describing the experience, connotations of love were used. Yet there was a sadness accompanying this, when mothers thought about their relationship, and what their child’s
experiences could have been, prior to the introduction of Intensive Interaction. The latter seemed apparent in those who felt that Intensive Interaction brought connection.

Looking back: ‘he was just really… grumpy and sad, probably bored… not motivated, you know …’.

It works like any loving relationship: ‘hysterical and beautiful at the same time’.  

3. Fighting for Support – getting support in the first place:

Finding information and support relating to Intensive Interaction was often seen to be challenging. Gaining support for their child’s needs had to take place before the introduction of Intensive Interaction; this could also be a challenge. Proactivity seemed essential, as delay could result in difficult consequences.

Taking it into your own hands: ‘I feel as a parent, you don’t get really supported with anything … you have to find out for yourself …’; ‘I just google searched, did all the research papers and if I couldn’t get one then I got one of the consultants to get it’.

Maintaining a dialogue with school: ‘there’s got to be a partnership parents and the child, er the child’s school really. Because if you don’t have that it becomes like two separate places …’.

Pressures of parenting a disabled child: why we cannot always take it into our own hands: ‘child goes off to school and probably the last thing that parents want to do is go to school after them and be trained in something. Because actually, just coping with the day-to-day life is enough …’; ‘we were sort of on a low anyway with what to expect … coming to terms with a child that was … gonna have some disabilities, and, you know you feel lost and, you feel guilty’.

What was missed: delayed support: ‘The early intervention, like I say, it’s worked significantly’.

4. Challenging Underlying Low Expectations and Stigma:

Participants experienced other people having low expectations of their child. There was a sense that Intensive Interaction challenged this.

‘Setting up to fail’: ‘their expectations of (older son) were so low … they didn’t expect him to do anything so … they didn’t give him that opportunity to progress … he was just expected to lay on a beanbag … and just be fed and watered, his nappy changed and that was It … if you look at somebody and only expect a certain thing from them then, actually you’re setting them up to fail’.

Proving everybody wrong: ‘I felt like I’d proved everybody … wrong, I always said that he had more about him than what everybody was telling me… there was somebody in there… he wasn’t … just a little boy who… was just going to lay there looking at starry lights …’.

The Conclusions: generalising across the finings, for some of the mothers, Intensive Interaction gave them a way of connecting with their child through ‘developing reciprocity’, indicating that using Intensive Interaction was beneficial in both relational and emotional terms for themselves, and possibly also for their children. However, for those mothers who already saw reciprocated affection from their children, perhaps not unexpectedly, learning about Intensive Interaction was perceived to have less of an impact on the quality of their relationship.

The mothers also thought that the benefits of using Intensive Interaction would be maximised if they were given early opportunities to learn about the approach. Finally, the mothers also saw using Intensive Interaction as a way of challenging negative discourses about their intellectually disabled children.

Ref and link: Berridge, S. & Hutchinson, N. (2021), ‘Mothers’ experience of Intensive Interaction’, Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, 26(2), p.391–406.

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