The main reason I promote the use of the 7 levels engagement is so staff have a shared language with which they can describe and analyse their practice.  In a recent consultancy I did for the Sheffield learning disability charity The Burton Street Foundation, one trainee said “Oh, I get it… the levels are about the depth of the interaction.”  This is correct.  The levels are not describing some abstract quality that is only useful for recording… it is a way to describe the depth of an interaction, from fleeting awareness all the way to two-way-ness and the initiation of this two-way-ness. A clear understanding of the levels can really help staff to understand how to meet the needs of the people they support more effectively.

For example, at Woolley Wood school I have given a teaching assistant in each class the role of II Class Lead.  During the first half term their first as was to take a baseline for the two children in the class most in need of Intensive Interaction support.  To take the baseline the staff have to pair up and film some interactions and then watch the films back and record the levels every thirty seconds.  This is done several times for each child and the average is taken which gives a relatively robust baseline to which future interactions can be compared.

That this method gives a nice baseline is all very well and good but to be honest, I’m more interested in the social learning that takes place between the staff as they do the analysis, particularly with their new words to describe the practice.  I was very happy therefore when one class teacher gave me the following feedback:

“Last week the II Class Lead organised an after school reflection meeting during which we analysed one video of an interaction with one of the children.  We were discussing and noting the levels every thirty seconds and then, about three minutes in, we noticed that the levels dropped off.  We discussed the potential reasons why the the interaction no longer had the two-way-ness and that the person was only showing brief attention to what was happening socially and, after reviewing the video again, we realised that the staff had started to try too hard, being a little impatient because nothing had happened for 15 or 20 seconds or so.   We discussed how the staff could approach the interaction differently next time and how perhaps the staff could simply have waited to see what the child wanted to do next rather than to intervene or how it might have been a good time to end the interaction.”

The teacher who gave me this feedback was so enthusiastic for the work and it was great to see the fruits of reflective practice – how using a shared language to describe our shared challenge can help us to offer the joy of human interaction to isolated and difficult to reach people. My work here is done :0).