Making progress

A question recently posed by a parent at a recent training session at Woolley Wood was “How do I move on from these fun interactions to make sure I really progress my child’s communication skills?”  We had been talking about how to engage a child with a communication impairment in natural playful interaction and how the repeated encounters help a person to rehearse fundamental communication skills but the parent was interested in what she should do to ‘push’ this forward and ensure progress.
To answer this I used a metaphor.  I asked the group whether they had ever tried to make a new friend as an adult and I went on to explain how the process might take place.  Imagine that you are new to the area and another parent you have met at the school gates has invited you around for a cup of tea.  You go round their house and what do you talk about?  Perhaps you would discuss the weather or how your child is doing at school ie. you would find a common theme for interaction that you both share.  It’s likely that you would start by talking about whatever the other person seems interested and it’s unlikely at this stage you would start a conversation about more personal matters such as your family problems.  You would probably not yet call this person a true friend and if you were invited around again then you would probably still be happy with the small talk.  After a few visits however you may find that there is an opportunity to go a little deeper, to ask a question about your friend’s history, to share a personal story or perhaps ask some advice about something.  A conversation like this would make you feel more connected to the other person and that you have more in common than just the fact that your children are at the same school.  With more encounters one person may invite the other to the pub or the gym etc.  With more time, more shared experiences and more shared themes, you may even call each other friends.
I think that we all probably have some experience of something like this and I believe that Intensive Interaction works in the same way.  We should begin by just joining in with the themes that our partner is interested in without asserting our own agenda.  When we can enjoy being with our partner and they enjoy our company then, very often, opportunities to go deeper spring naturally from this sharing of space.  This opportunity may come in the form of a smile from our partner or some warm eye contact or a shift in their position so they are more open to us.  This may then be our time to act if we feel the need to develop the theme.  Our action may come in the form of moving a little closer to our partner, or reaching out and touching our partner or in some other way commenting on what is happening positively all the while making sure that our actions are still a response to what is happening.
The more time you spend sharing your partner’s space in a mindful and responsive way the more ways you will find to be with them and the more they will find they enjoy being with human beings like you.   As you find more and more themes that you can play with your partner you will more than likely feel that your relationship is developing, just like in the above example when more personal topics of discussion are found rather than just small talk.
I think that one way to define a relationship is by what you have in common.  In the context of intensive interaction we can be more specific and say that the quality of a relationship is defined by the number of themes you can share with your partner.  If you cannot find any way to enjoy being with your partner then you would say your relationship is not very good and if you find there are many ways to engage you would say that you had a good relationship.
So what do we have to do to ensure that this progress takes place?  The short answer is that we should continue to offer positive experiences of being socially included and persevere with our attempts to enjoy sharing our partner’s space.  During these repeated encounters our partner will have the opportuity to explore the social environment on their terms, naturally learning and rehearsing the fundamental communication skills a person needs to enjoy being with another person.
This sense of enjoyment, fun or satisfaction is a strong motivation for both partners.  We need to trust that, by cultivating a responsive and mindful attitude to interaction the repeated opportunities for mutually pleasurable engagements will create the conditions for our partner to make progress.  Without this trust in our approach we may feel compelled to direct the interaction toward our own goals and lead the interaction rather than letting our partner lead.  Once you have seen the results of regular intensive interaction then it is much easier to have this trust but in the beginning you must put your faith in the practice and play!

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