A post a day for II week – Monday – Woolley Wood School

Every Monday I visit Woolley Wood School in Parsons Cross, Sheffield.  I have worked at the school for one day per week since 2013 and, according to our evaluation of the community of practice, the Intensive Interaction provision and skill base has steadily developed over this time.  This year I have finally put a strategy into place that has been something that I have wanted to initiate for at least two years now and I thought I would share how this is going so far.
Each class now has a teaching assistant appointed as the Intensive Interaction Lead.  The person was chosen for their enthusiasm for the practice as shown over the last three years I have been working in the school developing II. Their role is three-fold:

  • To motivate the staff team to do Intensive Interaction and to learn more about the practice
  • To lead reflective practice meetings with the staff team
  • To be responsible for the intensive interaction recording – initiating the baselines and keeping the records up to date

The support that I give to help the lead person to achieve these objectives is to offer:

  • Easy to pass on principles of the practice (Three C’s of Intensive Interaction and RECAPS, 6 observable qualities of intensive interaction).  More about these in a future post.
  • Twice half-termly reflective practice meetings with the nine class leads to model how to facilitate such a meeting in the classroom after school.
  • Training on the 7 levels of intensive interaction and how to take baselines and record.
  • In class support to the lead person to model practice, answer questions and support recording.

Even though we are only half way through the first half-term, this strategy is already proving to be a big step forward for my role as consultant because I now have a group of staff to liaise with, each of whom is responsible for the practice in their class.  As you can imagine, this is much more practical that one person attempting to facilitate the practice in nine classes with only one day per week to do it.  I’ll write more about this strategy as the year progresses.
I will attempt to write a post a day for Intensive Interaction Week, each post referring to the context I work in on that day.  Tomorrow will be the Hesley Group service Wilsic Hall School in Wadworth, Doncaster.
 

Training Opportunities

In Spring 2017 I will be offering 3 courses on Musical Interaction and Intensive Interaction
15th March 2017 9.30 – 3.30pm Musical Interaction Training
This full day training will help participants to develop a person centred responsive approach to music-making and communication.  No musical experience necessary.  See attached flyer for more details. £95 per place if booked before 31st Jan 2017
PDF Flyer – Musical Interaction Training 15th March 2017
15th May 2017 9.45am – 12pm – Intensive Interaction Essentials
Half day session covering the core concepts underpinning Intensive Interaction and Responsive Communication.  £55
15th May 2017 12.30pm – 2.30pm – Recording Intensive Interaction
Half day session covering practical methods for recording Intensive Interaction in different settings.  These methods were approved by OFSTED in Woolley Wood’s most recent inspection. £55
Book on both Intensive Interaction sessions on 15th May for a reduced fee of £95
Places on all courses can be booked by calling 07896 977388.
Kind regards

Currently I am working at four care settings near Doncaster run by the Hesley Group. Two of the services are secondary schools, one is a college for 18-25 year olds and the other is for adults. All four settings are residential services for people living with autism (sometimes in combination with a severe learning disability) and the support workers find many of the service users challenging to care for.
My favourite job title for what I do on these four days is “Social Learning Mentor”. Why? Because this describes the three main aims of my work:
To improve the quality of life of the service users by helping them to learn fundamental social skills.
To help the staff learn how to bridge the communication gap and develop deeper relationships with the person they support.
To facilitate the development of a community of practice (social learning) centred around 1 and 2.
I know how to achieve my first objective because there is a very effective method… Intensive Interaction. As Dave Hewett recently said on a video “We should be using an intervention that focuses dynamically and socially on the major aspects of the impairment which is social communication”. This is exactly what intensive interaction does and the efficacy of the approach is evidenced, not only by the major textbooks on the approach, but in the way that practitioners light up when they describe the benefits of their work. Practitioners really seem to love this way of working. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
Dave Hewett continues to say that we should use this approach a lot with the supported person. This I know to be true because, not only have I seen Dave’s videos and other case studies, I have also seen first hand the profound impact sustained intensive interaction can have upon a persons quality of life. However, because I only work one day a week in each Hesley setting, I can’t apply this sustained approach on my own.
This brings me my second aim, and the my main theme for this post, to train the staff in intensive interaction so that they can help the service user too. Well, this was my original aim but over sustained periods of mentoring and training support workers, I found that this purpose, to do intensive interaction to teach communication skills, didn’t create enough passion for all of the staff to take it up. In a recent conversation, Graham Firth (II Project Leader in Leeds) confirmed my theory as to why this is true. While he and Dave Hewett are used to training people, parents and staff who have already decided to learn Intensive Interaction and attend one of the courses that the Intensive interaction Institute offer, my work often involves training and inspiring staff who have not chosen to be trained. This makes a big difference. While a training day offering intensive interaction to the wider public as an approach to deal with a challenge of teaching communication skills can attract attendees who share and have been inspired by this common purpose, I have to find a common challenge that unites the closed population of staff in the places that I work. Teaching communication skills will inspire some staff for sure but for a true community of practice to flourish I ended up looking for something more universal.
Supporting the people that live in the Hesley Group care setting can be very challenging and consequently the job can be quite stressful. Acknowledging this was an important step in connecting with the staff (rather than giving them something else they had to do on top of their workload) and I started to look at what the benefits are for the practitioner rather than placing the emphasis on the service user. I already mentioned that practitioners ‘light up’ when they describe their Intensive Interaction practice and so I wondered if I could offer the approach as something that could find this joy in an otherwise difficult job.
I describe this feeling as “this is why I came to work” and I started to ask staff what makes a moment like this for them. The answers seem to fall into two camps, either the fruit of the staffs hard labours (like teaching someone to use a spoon for a year and finally seeing the person achieve this) or making a connection with the person they support, stepping into their world, seeing them happy, making them smile.
So, I started to offer Intensive Interaction to support workers as an approach to find these moments of “this is why I came to work”. I asked staff what happens to the stress of the day when you find a moment like this. The universal answer is that the stress disappears and you can go home “buzzing… feeling really warm knowing that I done a really good job”. All it takes is seconds of meaningful connection, play, co-created dialogue, smiles, recognition or new permission and a stressful negative day can become a positive one.
While one of these moments is enough for a difficult day to turn positive (and this fact alone should be enough for anyone to give it a go), it is through the repetition of these moments that trust and relationship with the people we support are forged. With a deeper relationship the care work can become more straightforward and much more satisfying and we can take pride from knowing that we are helping a person to be less isolated and to experience the joy of human interaction.

This is why I come to work! (or Intensive Interaction and staff engagement)

Currently I am working at four care settings near Doncaster run by the Hesley Group.  Two of the services are secondary schools, one is a college for 18-25 year olds and the other is for adults.  All four settings are residential services for people living with autism (sometimes in combination with a severe learning disability) and the support workers find many of the service users challenging to care for.
My favourite job title for what I do on these four days is “Social Learning Mentor”.  Why?  Because this describes the three main aims of my work:

  1. To improve the quality of life of the service users by helping them to learn fundamental social skills.
  2. To help the staff learn how to bridge the communication gap and develop deeper relationships with the person they support.
  3. To facilitate the development of a community of practice (social learning) centred around 1 and 2.

I know how to achieve my first objective because there is a very effective method… Intensive Interaction.  As Dave Hewett recently said on a video “We should be using an intervention that focuses dynamically and socially on the major aspects of the impairment which is social communication”.  This is exactly what intensive interaction does and the efficacy of the approach is evidenced, not only by the major textbooks on the approach, but in the way that practitioners light up when they describe the benefits of their work.  Practitioners really seem to love this way of working.  I’ll come back to this in a minute.
Dave Hewett continues to say that we should use this approach a lot with the supported person.  This I know to be true because, not only have I seen Dave’s videos and other case studies, I have also seen first hand the profound impact sustained intensive interaction can have upon a persons quality of life. However, because I only work one day a week in each Hesley setting, I can’t apply this sustained approach on my own.
This brings me my second aim, and the my main theme for this post, to train the staff in intensive interaction so that they can help the service user too.  Well, this was my original aim but over sustained periods of mentoring and training support workers, I found that this purpose, to do intensive interaction to teach communication skills, didn’t create enough passion for all of the staff to take it up. In a recent conversation, Graham Firth (II Project Leader in Leeds) confirmed my theory as to why this is true.  While he and Dave Hewett are used to training people, parents and staff who have already decided to learn Intensive Interaction and attend one of the courses that the Intensive interaction Institute offer, my work often involves training and inspiring staff who have not chosen to be trained.  This makes a big difference.  While a training day offering intensive interaction to the wider public as an approach to deal with a challenge of teaching communication skills can attract attendees who share and have been inspired by this common purpose, I have to find a common challenge that unites the closed population of staff in the places that I work.  Teaching communication skills will inspire some staff for sure but for a true community of practice to flourish I ended up looking for something more universal.
Supporting the people that live in the Hesley Group care setting can be very challenging and consequently the job can be quite stressful.  Acknowledging this was an important step in connecting with the staff (rather than giving them something else they had to do on top of their workload) and I started to look at what the benefits are for the practitioner rather than placing the emphasis on the service user.  I already mentioned that practitioners ‘light up’ when they describe their Intensive Interaction practice and so I wondered if I could offer the approach as something that could find this joy in an otherwise difficult job.
I describe this feeling as “this is why I came to work” and I started to ask staff what makes a moment like this for them.  The answers seem to fall into two camps, either the fruit of the staffs hard labours (like teaching someone to use a spoon for a year and finally seeing the person achieve this) or making a connection with the person they support, stepping into their world, seeing them happy, making them smile.
So, I started to offer Intensive Interaction to support workers as an approach to find these moments of “this is why I came to work”.  I asked staff what happens to the stress of the day when you find a moment like this.  The universal answer is that the stress disappears and you can go home “buzzing… feeling really warm knowing that I done a really good job”.  All it takes is seconds of meaningful connection, play, co-created dialogue, smiles, recognition or new permission and a stressful negative day can become a positive one.
While one of these moments is enough for a difficult day to turn positive (and this fact alone should be enough for anyone to give it a go), it is through the repetition of these moments that trust and relationship with the people we support are forged.  With a deeper relationship the care work can become more straightforward and much more satisfying and we can take pride from knowing that we are helping a person to be less isolated and to experience the joy of human interaction.
 
 
 
 

Alone or Lonely? Does the person you support have the ability to choose?

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely.  I think that being ‘alone’ is when you are by yourself and content with the situation while ‘loneliness’ is the unhappiness that arises when a person is on their own but would rather have the company of others.
When supporting a person with a communication disability we must consider that a person, who is observed to be on their own, may or may not be content with the situation.  I have encountered many support workers who have told me that the person they support likes to be on their own, rocking in the corner of the room or sat quietly on the sofa.  “Maybe… maybe not” is my reply.  How do we know for certain if a person wants to be on their own if they lack the very skills that a typical person would use to initiate an interaction with other people?
One way I explain the situation to the staff that I mentor is like this.  The people we support sometimes want to be on their own and they can often communicate this need to us, often in an extreme way – pushing, shouting, nipping or other challenging behaviours.  Likewise, the people we support can sometimes communicate when they would like to be with us perhaps by hugging, holding, dancing.  But there is a grey area in between these two poles where perhaps the people we support would like to be with us but feel unable to start the interaction, feeling anxious, lacking confidence, feeling fearful.  In this situation the people we support would be lonely (and suffering from loneliness) rather than being content with being alone.
How do I as a practitioner know that this might be the case? Because when I use an approach like intensive interaction or responsive communication it is at these times that I might approach someone, when the person is on their own and not pushing people away or becoming obsessed with sensory stimulation.  And when I  approach people sensitively at these time what do I find?  I often find that, if I have offered myself in the way that the person I am supporting needs me to be, such a person might begin to enjoy my company and show pleasure in being with another human being, rather than pushing me away as might be the case if they were happy being alone.
As I said above, there is a question (rather than certainty) over whether a person wants to be alone when they are observed to be by themselves.  We should be careful about assuming that a person with a severe communication disability (arising from autism, learning disabilities or dementia) is content if they are by themselves and we should be aware that this assumption can spring from our use of the same criteria that we use with our friends and family for determining whether a person wants be alone ie. assuming that if they are by themselves they are content and could reach out for human contact if they wanted.  For a person who lacks fundamental communication skills our assumption should rather be that ‘this person may not have the ability to reach out for the social contact that they desire and need’ and we should investigate how to approach the person sensitively to determine whether their isolation is in fact something they desire or would rather was not the case.  So, the next time you see someone by themselves, ask yourself this: is this person content with being alone or is loneliness damaging their mental health?

Intensive Interaction in Adult Services

In September 2015 I accepted a second Intensive Interaction Co-ordinator position, this time for the Hesley Group, an adult autism service based south of Doncaster. I have a contract for 1 day per week for a year and my aim is to develop a sustainable community of practice at the Hesley Village, the companys central site.
The task doesn’t seem straightforward. The village has over 600 members of staff with the care staff split into three shift based teams. There are over 40 adults with autism each of which is assigned a key worker, speech and language therapist, occupational therapist and vocational team member. There is a management hierarchy comprising of a team leader, deputy care manager and care manager all of whom are involved directly in the resident’s care.
A sustainable community of practice needs to involve all these people. Staff from every level of the hierarchy must be able to access training and mentoring as well as having a voice around the table so that the development of the service is owned by the community.
Questions raised included… How do we offer a course that requires regular attendance in a shift based work environment? Should we be changing the practice of a small group of staff or raising awareness of II across the entire staff team? How can we offer mentoring to management? How do we make sure that stories of success are not lost?
In answer to these questions, our initial model is as follows: I will work with 4 residents from one care managers area for 24 weeks. I will visit the resident’s homes and model intensive interaction, providing half hour mentoring sessions to the key worker and other on-shift staff with one mentoring session for other staff drawn from a pool of SLT’s, OT’s, care managers and vocational staff. This means the frontline staff will have the most time with me while therapy and management staff will still have 3 practical mentoring sessions and all the learning tasks associated with this teaching.
During handover in the afternoon I intend to deliver a classroom based session with time for explanation of principles and sharing of video.
I’ll let you know how we get on in. :O)

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.
http://understandingarts.co.uk/?tribe_events=musical-interaction-for-sen-with-matthew-laurie-2-3

Musical Interaction Training Day

Last week I delivered the first ‘Understanding Musical Interaction’ training day at Woolley Wood School.  The day was for teachers and teaching assistants working in SEN settings who were interested in the use of music and communication with children with special needs.  My aim for the day was for participants to pick up the principles of the work and be able to apply them in the context of their workplace.
IMG_1907The approach is thoroughly grounded in Intensive Interaction so we investigated the principles by engaging in experiential learning activities and reflecting on footage of sessions that have taken place at Woolley Wood.  A special element of this course was the opportunity to participate in a music circle with children from Woolley Wood so that attendees could see the work in practice.  The afternoon was spent making music, understanding the repertoire and learning how to play the kalimba, a musical instrument that was included in the course fee that each participant could take back to their school.  I enjoyed the day throughly and included below is some of the feedback from the participants.
The next ‘Understanding Musical Interaction’ training day is on March 10th 2015.  For more information see www.understandingarts.co.uk.
“Perfect in every way”  Sue Brear, Rowan School, Sheffield
“The way this course has been delivered is inspiring and I feel excited about trying these things (principles) not just in school but in social situations with friends! :0)”  Matthew Grayling, Woolley Wood School, Sheffield
“I feel I understand the theory behind the practice in a much deeper way” Matthew Blackwell, Tameside Music Service
“Videos we are useful way of showing and defining Intensive Interaction. Fundamentals were explained very clearly through the games and discussions at the beginning of the day” Matthew Grayling, Woolley Wood School, Sheffield
“I can see clearly how musical interaction and intensive interaction are linked.  Everything comes from the child and during music sessions when we go from the child we see a better response” Bev Cotterill, Woolley Wood School, Sheffield
6 out of 6 delegates said they have a clearer understanding of the benefits of musical and intensive interaction.
6 out of 6 delegates said that they feel more confident to try to apply the principles in their school.
6 out of 6 delegates rated the Delivery, Content, Venue and Resources as excellent
 
 

How would you feel?

I was told a story today about an interaction that took place in the playground at Woolley Wood.  The teaching assistant said that she approached the child as she was playing in the sandpit and, after she sat down next to the child, the child stood up and walked away.  The teaching assistant’s reflection was that the child does not like being approached when playing in the sand pit so she decided not to try again.
This led to some interesting discussions.  First I explained that the reflection that the child does not like being approached was actually an assumption in contrast to a deduction made through reflective practice.  When we begin to analyse how we approached the child by asking questions like “what did I actually do?”, “what could I have done differently” we begin to see that there are in fact many ways that we could have approached and many ways that we could have tried to join in or cue the play.
As an example I asked the teacher to imagine the following:  You are sat on the back seat of an empty bus and a new unfamiliar passenger gets on board, walks all the way down the isle and sits right next to you.  How would you feel?  On another day you are sat in the same seat on the bus but this time the seat next to you is one of the few empty seats.  A new unfamiliar passenger gets on board and they walk down the isle and sit on the empty seat.  How do you feel this time?
The teaching assistant explained that in the first example she would feel unnerved and would feel like moving away from the new passenger while in the second example she wouldn’t mind that the new passenger had sat next to her.  I think that this how most of us would feel in the same situation too and I also believe, thinking back to our initial story of the playground, that the child in the sandpit moved away because he/she feel like we would on the empty bus. To help us with our Intensive Interaction practice we can now turn the the metaphor around and ask ourselves where we would sit if we were that new passenger.
This example can help us think about our approach to Intensive Interaction.  In terms of positioning, there are many different ‘seats’ that we could choose when we engage with a child.  The teaching assistant above chose one position and, to the child, this may have felt like someone sitting on the adjacent seat on an empty bus.  To work out what is acceptable to the child we need to become scientists and experiment.  Try further away (the other end of the bus) and if the child does not move away then try closer positions on subsequent occasions.  By employing reflective, empathic (and patient) practice in this way we can find a position where the child acknowledges our presence but does not feel too anxious.
What we do next of course is another matter :0)  I’ll write about this in another post…
 
 

Interaction Training

Woolley Wood School are hosting 4 training events for special needs teachers during the 2014/15 academic year.  The training will be led by Matthew Laurie and take place on the following dates:
12 Nov 2014 – Understanding Musical Interaction
10 March 2015 –  Understanding Musical Interaction
28th April 2015 – Intensive Interaction –  – Principles and Implementation
10th June 2015 – Intensive Interaction – Principles and Implementation
For more information please visit www.understandingarts.co.uk