Verbal Intensive Interaction

In response to a few recent questions I thought I would explain my thinking about how the principles of Intensive Interaction can be applied with clients/partners who are more skilled at the fundamentals of communication ie. people who are able to use speech, more sophisticated emotional communication and are able to initiate interactions.  I imagine that the reason people are asking how Intensive Interaction can be used in this way is because Intensive Interaction has generally been promoted as an approach to teaching fundamental communication skills to a person with a severe learning disability and many pictures and videos of intensive interaction depict a practitioner interacting with such a person.  It is therefore easy to come to the conclusion that Intensive Interaction is only of use with people who are in the early stages of communication development.
This conclusion can be avoided however if we can make a distinction between principles, situations and applications three useful concepts that can help us understand how to use any skill.  To elaborate, a principle is a fundamental rule that we try to follow in order to to use a skill.  Principles should be straightforward, few in number and easy to apply. Situations are the specific conditions in which we are applying the principles of the skill. Applications are the many ways that we may try to apply the principles in different situations.   An effective application follow the principles closely and the further away from the principles we are, the less effective our application is.
To take a simple example from Intensive Interaction then, if I encounter a child at Woolley Wood who is sat on the floor rocking from side to side I might choose to sit near them and join them by rocking from side to side too.  Using the ideas of principles, situations and applications,  we can think of this example in the following way:

  • Principle Be responsive
  • Situation On the floor with an autistic child who is rocking for side to side
  • Application To join the child in rocking from side to side

Or in another example when I engaged a child who was stood in a classroom tapping the table with his fingers:

  • Principle Be responsive
  • Situation Standing next to a child who occasionally tapping the table
  • Application To join in with the child by tapping at the same time or by taking turns

Thinking in this way can help us see how we can use Intensive with people who are more socially adept.  We can now see that, when people talk about Intensive Interaction as an approach for people who are pre-verbal, it is the application and situation that is being talked about rather than the principles.  Because the principles of Intensive Interaction are based on the natural approach taken by a caregiver when interacting with an infant, which therefore means that the principles of Intensive interaction are based on how human beings as a species have naturally been taught to communicate, then surely these principles can be applied in situations involving people with a wide range of communication ability.
Your aim when using intensive interaction aim therefore is not to try to replicate the application but try to follow the principles as best you can.  Try to be responsive and mindful and engage in an interaction without a set goal or agenda.  This is the same aim as you would have when you go out with your friends or engage in small talk with a colleague – there is no purpose other than for a positive social experience.
The process is the same when working with a verbal or non verbal person and this is the conclusion I have reached after investigating the application of intensive interaction and socially engaged arts practice for over 13 years in my work with people with learning disabilities, autism, dementia and mental health problems.  My understanding is that the principles of Intensive Interaction are the principles of human social engagement and are therefore an essential framework for anyone employing socially engaged practice when working with people with a communication disability.
So thinking in terms of principles and applications can help us understand how Intensive Interaction can be used with people who can use speech and other more sophisticated communication ability but the question now is what exactly to do?  Whether the interaction is verbal or non-verbal, thinking in terms of themes can help a practitioner understand how to join in, what to join in with and how to develop an interaction and so as a conclusion to this post I suggest that you read two of the previous articles from this blog:

Musical Interaction Training 2015

I am pleased to say there will be another Musical Interaction training day on Tuesday March 10th 2015.  This course will be open to teachers and teaching assistants from any special school and the aim of the course is to introduce a clear set of principles for musical interaction and intensive interaction along with a new repertoire of musical applications in order to make a genuine impact upon the practice of the participants.  The feedback from the last course was very good and the 6 week follow-ups have indicated that all participants have been able to apply the principles in the context of their work successfully.  Comment from this evaluation included:
“I have been using the ideas a lot at school and its going really well! I am actually using some of the songs on Thursday in my lesson observation! It still seems to be going well and they have all loved it – no matter which age group I am teaching.”

Katie Meeney, Music Co-ordinator, Mossbrook Primary, Sheffield

“I feel I understand the theory behind the practice in a much deeper way”

M Blackwell, Thameside Music Service

“The way this course has been delivered has been inspiring…Fundamentals were explained clearly through the games and discussions at the beginning of the day”  

Matthew Grayling, Woolley Wood School

“The course was perfect in every way”   

Sue Brear, Teaching Assistant, Rowan School

All the participants gave the highest score of excellent when rating the course delivery, content and venue.
Follow the link for more information.  If you would like to contact Matthew Laurie about the course then please call 07896 977388.

Intensive Interaction and Mindfulness – Part 3

In the previous two parts of this series I have talked about the attitudes of non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind and trust.  My opinion is that while regular practice in intensive interaction can teach us about these attitudes implicitly, our practice can be enhanced if we intentionally try to develop these attitudes and consciously apply them to our practice.  To continue the series then we shall look at the attitudes of non-striving and acceptance.
Non-striving: One of the most fundamental features of intensive interaction is often described as ‘tasklessness’, a concept first highlighted (to me at least) by Hewett and Nind in their book Access to Communication (1994).  In contrast to interactions that have specific objectives communicated to the learner through instructions, tasklessness places the emphasis upon the process of interaction rather than a particular result.  In the same book, Hewett and Nind explain that “this process and its potential to provide a learning experience is more important than an objective” and that another perspective would be to say that the “objective is to get the process going”.  How then should be we approach this process and how can we be certain that our objective of setting up the process does not become another task?
Learning about mindfulness can help us answer this questions.  Jon Kabat Zinn does not use the word tasklessness but instead offers us the concept of non-striving. He explains that almost everything we do is for a purpose, to get something or somewhere and that this attitude is a real obstacle to mindfulness.  For example, if you approach an interaction with the idea of ‘we are going to do the clapping game’ or ‘it would be great if Jonny gave me good eye contact’ then you have introduced an idea into your mind of what should be happening or of what success looks like and along with this comes the notion that what is happening now is not ok or successful.  In practice, a practitioner with this attitude will be observed to ‘do too much’, attempting to cue interactions and initiate themes as they try to mould the interaction according to how they imagine it should be.  In contrast, a mindful approach would be to pay close attention to your partner’s behaviour and just try to respond to this appropriately by joining in with what your partner is doing.  Once we have stopped striving for the interaction to be a certain way, it is easier to accept our partner’s behaviour as it is right now and relax into the interaction.  When we can relax then our partner will feel relaxed too and it is more likely that the kind of things that we were striving for may naturally evolve.  I would go further than this and say that the success we strive for will always be limited by what we conceive of success as looking like, but if we relax and follow our partner then the resulting interaction could far exceed our expectations.
At Woolley Wood I have had many conversations with staff about how their engagement with the many tasks that are important to the running of the classroom (teaching, feeding, changing, recording) creates an attitude of constant doing and how a change of approach (to that of being) is needed when we engage in Intensive Interaction.  In Access to Communication Hewett and Nind highlight this problem when they explain that as teachers ‘it was our job to set tasks and objectives for sessions and make sure that they are fulfilled” and in my work at Woolley Wood I see this is compounded by the additional tasks that must be fulfilled with respect to children’s care needs.  In my experience, learning about social engagement happens when a child can explore the social environment in the same playful, self motivated way that a child explores the physical environment.  To facilitate this exploration we must be able to share our partner’s space in a relaxed way so that opportunities for social engagement are naturally available.  To do this we must stop the habitual attitude of striving that we have learnt as we engage in our day to day doing, pay more attention and learn how to be with our partner.  The most straightforward way to do this is to follow your partner’s lead and join in with whatever they are doing.
To offer a simple metaphor, if you were called to the head teacher’s (or line manager’s) office how would you share their space in a relaxed way?  What would you talk about?  I imagine that the sensible approach would be to talk about what they want talk about and agree to do what they want you to do otherwise the situation might feel a bit uncomfortable.  If you reject what the head says and start talking about your agenda then it is likely that things won’t feel so relaxed.  Our approach should be similar when we begin intensive interaction… your communication partner is your boss and you’re going to do what they say!
As a conclusion, the last paragraph of Jon Kabat Zinns text on non striving can be seen as an excellent exposition of intensive interaction with only one word needing to changed.  See for yourself…
“In the mindfulness [intensive interaction] domain, the best way to achieve your goals is to back off from striving for results and instead to start focusing carefully on seeing and accepting things as they are, moment by moment.  With patience and regular practice, movement towards your goals will take place by itself.  This movement becomes an unfolding that you are inviting to happen..”
Acceptance: An attitude that is clearly linked to that of non-striving is that of acceptance. As jon Kabat Zinn notes, this does not mean that we have to be satisfied with things as they are or that we are resigned to tolerating things as they ‘have to be’.  Neither does it mean that we should give up on our desire for change and growth or avoid getting involved in situations because they are the way they are and therefore hopeless.  Acceptance as we are speaking of it means a willingness to see things as they are.  This attitude then sets the stage for acting appropriately, no matter what is happening.
Placed into the context of intensive interaction we can begin to talk about our willingness to accept our partner’s behaviour as it is now rather than how we would like it to be.  If you can accept your partner and really see what they are doing then this sets the stage for a more appropriate response to their behaviour and an increased likelihood that your response will have meaning for your partner. To paraphrase Jon Kabat Zinn, you are much more likely to know what to do and have the inner conviction to act when you have a clear picture of what is happening versus when your vision is clouded by your mind’s judgments and desires.  In mindfulness meditation practice this acceptance is cultivated by taking each moment as it comes and being fully with it, as it is.  By taking this attitude to our intensive interaction practice we will also cultivate and develop acceptance too.  We can remind ourselves to be receptive and open to whatever we are seeing and and experiencing and to accept it because that is what is happening right now.  The more we practice this the better we will get at it and more appreciative our partner will be of our ability to be with them in a way that they find genuinely meaningful.