Once up on a time I believed that all practitioners (and potential practitioners of intensive interaction) would share the same motivations – to help the person they are supporting to develop fundamental communication skills or to offer experiences of social inclusion and help the person become less isolated as a result of their communication disability. While these motivations are very important and are often the priority for teachers, educators and therapists, after working for several years with support workers at the Hesley Group, I found that this other group of practitioners were, on the whole, motivated by a different set of reasons and outcomes.
This realisation is very important, particularly when working to develop a community of practice. In Etienne Wenger’s social learning theory, the concept of ‘identity’ explains why a person will be motivated to take up a practice. Put very simply, if the benefits of a new practice cover enough of the person’s ‘identity’ that they see the benefit to themselves; that they see why working harder tomorrow will be worth it, then they might give it a go (Interestingly, Etienne explained to me that the concept of identity hasn’t entered the mainstream understanding of ‘communities of practice” which may explain why it is an often neglected part of the theory). Much of the explained benefits for Intensive Interaction tend toward looking at the impact upon the person we are supporting but, in my personal experience, while this is an important factor, it seems that this objective is not enough to motivate all people to do more intensive interaction… staff need to see “what’s in it” for them.
So, with this in mind, here are some of the most common motivations that I have found support workers to have for doing intensive interaction. I have found that emphasising ‘what’s in it” for the practitioner to be very effective is supporting a staff member to try intensive interaction.
To find “this is why I came to work” moments – The wonderful thing about support work is that these moments are available every day. All intensive interaction practitioners know what I mean when I say “this is why I came to work”. It was this feeling, and the mutual feeling of the person I was supporting, that made me an advocate of II in the first place. From conversations with people on induction with the Hesley Group, it seems that outside of care work people typically have these moments of job satisfaction in relation to promotion or when somebody offers them praise.
To calm the supported person to baseline – This benefit is a recurring theme with the support workers at Hesley Village. The reason is obvious – the support workers have a difficult job supporting people whose behaviour can put both themselves and the staff at risk of harm. Staff will certainly value a technique that can calm a volatile situation, reducing the risk to both the staff and the supported person.
To get a good shift – One staff member now describes the practice as “working for the eye contact” after she found that, if she joins in with the persons offers and gets good eye contact at the beginning of a shift then she tends to have a good shift.
To create rapport – Many staff feel unhappy when don’t get any positive feedback from the person they are supporting. Staff are often relieved to find an approach that can create rapport, which both gives the positive feedback, because rapport works both ways, a positive feeling for the staff too. One staff member now describes the practice as “working for the eye contact” after she found that she
To build a relationship – This is my core message to new starters. Good relationship with the person you support = good job. Bad relationship = bad job. Rather than developing a relationship through trial and error, Intensive Interaction immediately brings a sensitivity to the needs of the person and will mean that the relationship develops quicker.
To make the supported person happy – The reason why support workers at Hesley have a good shift is more often than not because the person was happy. Staff therefore find a lot of value in a simple approach that can lead to more happiness.
The community of practice at Hesley only started to develop once I started considering the motivations and needs of the community of staff I was working with. Rather than trying to explain the practice in terms of the value I saw in it, I began to consult with staff to understand their perspective so that I could adapt my explanations to their needs. This approach has had far reaching impacts and it all started with answering “What’s in it for them?”