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:

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