‘Frequently Asked Questions’ regarding Intensive Interaction

What is Intensive Interaction?

Intensive Interaction is an accessible and practical communication approach that makes it easier for parents, carers or professionals to socially interact with people who have learning disabilities and/or autism.

Why use Intensive Interaction?

Intensive Interaction is used to sociably respond to people with social or communication impairments (usually because of learning disabilities or autism), and then to develop mutually pleasurable social interactions with them.

Intensive Interaction focuses on using the ‘Fundamentals of Communication’ in order to interact with a person i.e. by reflecting a person’s movements or sounds back to them, sharing eye contacts and facial expressions, and sometimes sharing sociable physical contact.

Regular use of Intensive Interaction by parents, carers and/or teachers has been shown to significantly help people improve their fundamental communication skills.

Who is Intensive Interaction for?

Intensive Interaction is mainly used with:

  • Children and adults with severe or profound learning disabilities.
  • Children and adults with autism; including people with autism who can use language, but who continue to find it difficult to socially interact with other people.
  • Children and adults with complex needs e.g. people with multi-sensory impairments.

However, Intensive Interaction is now also used with other people who have communication or social impairments e.g. people with late-stage dementia or acquired brain injuries.

Who can do Intensive Interaction?

One of the great things about Intensive Interaction is that the things we do are drawn from the normal communication responses that we give to infants during interactions with them – so it comes quite naturally to most of us.

Who invented Intensive Interaction?

Intensive Interaction was developed in the 1980s by teachers Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind at Harperbury Hospital School. The approach was developed directly in the classroom with students with learning disabilities and autism; it was the result of an action research endeavour carried out by the whole staff team.

How do you do Intensive Interaction?

The techniques we use to do Intensive Interaction with someone include:

  • Using good observation: looking and listening to see and hear in just what ways the person is communicating with you i.e. looking for things to join in with or somehow respond to.
  • Letting the person lead the nature and form of the interaction: using some aspect of the person’s communication behaviour as the starting point of the interaction, and building the interaction around a shared repertoire of activities based on what the person can already do.
  • Using a controlled and careful tempo: giving the person time to process what is going on, and time to take their turns.
  • Sharing personal space: finding a position around the person that is okay for them e.g. somehow lying, sitting, standing, or even moving together.
  • Behavioural mirroring: mirroring back to the person some aspect of their posture, or their movements or their current behaviour i.e. joining in with some aspect of their behaviour in a turn-taking way.
  • Vocal echoing: echoing some aspect of the person’s sounds to develop a conversation-like exchange e.g. echoing any sounds or vocalisations they make, even their breathing sounds.
  • Turn-taking: taking turns with a person in some kind of socially interactive exchange e.g. sequencing our movements, sounds or physical exchanges.
  • Exchanging eye contacts and facial expressions: using clear facial expressions and sensitive eye contact with the person e.g. using soft eye contact, clear smiles, winking, etc.
  • Physical contact: making sensitive physical contact with the person e.g. holding, squeezing or clapping our hands together; rhythmically stroking arms or shoulders; walking together arm-in-arm; etc.
  • Joint focus activity: focusing our attention on the same object or activity with the person, at the same time e.g. exploring objects, books or pictures together; playing a game together; reading to or listening to music together.
  • Using ‘running commentaries’: using a positive ‘running commentary’ on our person’s actions, or on things that we can both see e.g. using simple language to comment on what’s going on: “wow, great, yeah”, “I can see you”, “here they come”, etc.

The frequent use of Intensive Interaction with a person with social or communication impairments helps them to develop their social interaction skills even further.

Are there any simple Intensive Interaction “Dos & Don’ts” to remember?

Yes, there are a few simple things that we should remember when we are doing Intensive Interaction with a child or adult. These include:

Intensive Interaction is very child or person-centred – it is based on the child or person’s current behaviour and interests; we are trying to interact with them by sensitively joining in with their activity, rather than leading them into our preferred activity.

Do go at the pace of the person – there is no rush! Intensive Interaction is something we do over the long term!

It is important to remember the ‘taskless’ nature of Intensive Interaction i.e. it is the quality of the interaction that is important, not any concrete or observable outcomes.

Intensive Interaction should be mutually pleasurable for both the people involved in an interaction. So, remember to enjoy interacting, and if it doesn’t feel right to either of you, then it probably isn’t right.

Don’t be put off if things don’t always go well – sometimes some sessions of Intensive Interaction go better than others, and sometimes things may not develop as quickly as we would like.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support if you need it e.g. from an experienced Intensive Interaction practitioner or other experienced professional.

So, Intensive Interaction is about being sensitively responsive to a person at their current level, in their preferred way, and at their own pace or tempo. This means responding to them and their behaviour, rather than getting them to respond to us and ours.

Remember – we do Intensive Interaction with the child or person, and not to them!

What are the benefits of using Intensive Interaction?

Research studies tell us that there are many positive outcomes from the regular use of Intensive Interaction. These positive outcomes include: 

  • more initiations of social interactions with other people
  • longer periods of social interaction with other people
  • better toleration of people being around them
  • better responsiveness to sociable physical contact with other people
  • more use of positive facial expressions within interactions e.g. smiling
  • more use of eye contact with other people whilst talking and listening
  • more use of meaningful vocalisations with other people, including for some people more sociable language use.

Over 40 research papers on Intensive Interaction have now been published in learning disability, special education or psychology journals, and you can find-one page summaries of many of them here.

What are the best Intensive Interaction online resources?

The ‘official’ Intensive Interaction website is run by the Intensive Interaction Institute, which offers services and resources (e.g. all the best books and DVDs) to help promote the theory and practice of Intensive Interaction. Their website is www.IntensiveInteraction.org

YouTube! There are now a good number of useful Intensive Interaction videos available online; over 30 helpful Intensive Interaction videos can be streamed for free on Dave Hewett’s ‘YouTube’ channel: www.youtube.com/user/III209/videos

There is an Intensive Interaction Users’ Facebook group with over 5,000 members. The group offers Intensive Interaction feedback and views from across its worldwide membership. You can view and join this group at www.facebook.com/groups/13657123715/  

Where can I get Intensive Interaction training?

The Intensive Interaction Institute provides training in the practical use of the approach. Visit their website at www.intensiveinteraction.org to see the range of training courses available for individuals and services to book onto.

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