What is Intensive Interaction:

Intensive interaction is a gentle and effective approach to teaching the key pre-speech elements of communication to children and adults, who are still at an early stage of communication or who have Autism or Learning Disabilities.

It was first discovered by Geraint Ephraim Ph.D, a psychologist who had worked in school and then developed further in the 80’s by a specialist team of teaching staff at Harperbury Hospital School Herfordshire, who taught pupils with severe learning difficulties.  Leading the research team was Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind who both were teachers at Harperbury School. Their work and involvement has led to the publication of several books explaining in detail their approach and its benefits.

Phoebe Caldwell describes Intensive Interaction as “the use of body language to communicate with children and adults in a way that establishes attention and emotional engagement”.  Communication is our ability to share our lives with others and to enjoy the experience of this communication, leading to meaningful interactions and emotional bonds. It differs from functional communication, where we can make our basic needs known such as wanting a drink, going to the toilet or asking for a snack. All of these requests can be made without language.

Emotional engagement is the critical part of the communication puzzle which enables us to connect meaningfully to those in our lives, to share experiences, to express our inner most feelings, to feel safe, protected, loved and cared for. Emotional engagement helps us feel connected and gain a sense of belonging. Some would argue it is essential for our mental health.

For many of the children and adults I work with, this sense of contentedness and emotional reciprocity is missing or undeveloped. The child or adult can feel lost, disconnected from their environment and people in their lives and begin the process of going into themselves and disengaging with the world around them. Often they can engage in self stimulatory behaviours, as they often gain some pleasurable sensory feedback from them without the need for others.

A lot of the children I work with, have a really strong desire to connect, yet simply do not know how. They do not posses the fundamental communication skills to know where to start in order to be successful. They need gentle guidance and support to begin this process; this is where Intensive Interaction can be most powerful.

Who can Benefit from Intensive Interaction?

Anyone who is at the pre-verbal and pre-communication stage of development or who needs support to extend and develop their communication skills. Intensive Interaction is very effective for:

  • Babies and Toddlers who show increasing signs of frustration at being unable to articulate their wishes/ desires
  • Individuals with Autism both pre verbal and also those with good social skills but need a little support with key skills such as developing eye contact.
  • Individuals with Learning Disabilities
  • Individuals who experience high levels of anxiety or distress and struggle to communicate during these times

What are the important foundations of early communication?

  • Giving your undivided attention to another person for extended periods of time.
  • Mimicking or mirroring the behaviours of the person you are with and taking turns at doing this.
  • Making the exchange safe, joyful and un-intimidating.
  • Be present – fully present in the moment! this is a powerful experience.
  • Allowing the person to lead the session, to not have a fixed agenda for how it will play out.
  • Learning to effectively use eye contact, expressions and body language.
  • Taking turns in the experience and extending the time and number of cycles of communication each time.

This simple set of principles is used by a mother and her child within the first year of their life. Much of the development of Intensive interaction was based on the scientific research in the way human beings learn to communicate during the first year with their primary care giver. A baby coos, and the mother responds, the baby wiggles, the mother responds and so on and so on.

How can I start to use Intensive Interaction?

  1. You simply need yourself, and another person
  2. Find a quiet space where you are unlikely to be disturbed
  3. Take a few moments to become fully present to the moment, and the person you are with
  4. Allow yourself to tune in with the other person, listen for their breathing rate, are they anxious? Note their eye contact or gaze and body language, notice their need for space and or distance between you both, notice what they orientate to, what they like, what gives them joy or relaxation.
  5. Be relaxed and calm
  6. Sensitively and intuitively start to copy or mimic the other persons body language and vocalisations, initially this can be as simple as their breathing, or the way they sit.
  7. Gradually over time  extend these sequences and repeat them frequently. In doing this you are helping the other person learn the fundamentals of communication and supporting them to connect.
  8. Allow the session to be free flow, without objectives or pressure. Do not direct the other person, instead allow them to simply be, and take the lead, then you simply support and reflect to them.

Allocate regular times each day to carry out these sessions with your communication partner. Over time extend the sessions. Most of all have fun and enjoy each others company!