Developed in the 1980s, Dr. Dave Hewett Ph.D. the founder of Intensive Interaction Institute, describes Intensive Interaction as a play-based approach that works towards aiding the development of a child’s early pre-speech communication and social skills. These skills include the ability to imitate sounds, facial expressions, eye contact, and joint attention. Intensive Interaction also focuses on breaking the actions of repetitive or self-inflicting behavior.
Intensive Interaction, as the term suggests, is a two-way communication and is applicable to all environments. The approach is built on how we monitor and interpret the actions and babbles/sounds that a child produces and respond accordingly. It entails understanding how to respond to a child in diverse situations based on observing their tone, facial expression, and body language. In the process, this allows for bonding and for both child and interactor (the person that is interacting with the child, i.e., parent/guardian/behavioural therapist,etc. ) to enjoy the presence of one another more.
WHO IS INTENSIVE INTERACTION FOR?
Intensive Interaction is applicable to individuals of all ages, not just exclusively children. It is primarily for individuals that are yet able to communicate via speech and language. These include individuals with:
Severe and/or complex learning difficulties
A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder.
A range of self-stimulatory or socially isolating behaviours.
Late-stage of dementia
Intensive Interaction is also for those that are very social by nature but still require developing social skills in:
Being able to practice and understanding eye contact and facial expressions
Sharing or being able to take turns in sequences of social behaviour.
The use of vocalisations
The approach can be utilise by all parties that are involved in supporting the child/adult and include:
Speech and language therapists
Family members and friends
HOW DOES INTENSIVE INTERACTION WORK?
Before any progress can be made with the child/adult, one must understand the principles of Intensive Interaction:
Set aside any preconceived ideas and focus solely on the individual you are supporting
Amend your behaviour or voice to be perceived as less threatening
Observe their body language and understand what it elicits
Treat all the actions of the individual you are supporting as if it is a form of communication
Instead of always imitating their actions exactly, adopt slight variations and have fun!
Intensive Interaction teaches the Fundamentals of Communication:
Learning how to have fun with others - how to play
Learning to offer & share attention with another - developing skills in joint activities
Learning how to take turns & share one’s personal space
Learning to use and recognise eye contact in daily social interactions
Learning about non-verbal communications such as facial expressions, & body language
Learning to regulate and control emotional responses & arousal levels
How Intensive Interaction can be conducted:
The Intensive Interaction guide first engages in play with the child, reciprocating what the child does by mimicking and including themselves into their interests.
For example, by imitating movements/gestures and facial expressions (e.g. banging toys; clapping hands) or imitating noises, if the child is making a noise, try and make the same noise. Wait for the child to do it again, and then repeat. This builds turn-taking.
Then transition into activities and games that explore and stimulate the use of communication skills. Try and make a game out of the actions and take turns! For example, the child bangs the object, then you bang the object and repeat the actions of the child again. Also try changing the sound/action slightly such as, if the child says “ah” you could say “ooh”. This helps to build shared attention, and encourages children to increase their range of sound production.
All interactions with the child keep at their pace and follow their interests. The guide would pause to observe what the child is doing before responding accordingly. The session will end once the child shows signs of exhaustion or discomfort in the form of whining or escape behavior such as running away or screaming.
At the beginning, the sessions may only last for a few minutes at most, but gradually as the child develops, the sessions will get longer.
There is no set time or schedule to practice this approach which can happen whenever the opportunity arises. For younger children, that may be several times a day. Intensive Interaction is usually incorporated naturally into the child’s daily activities at day care or if they are enrolled into a special needs school.
Written by Angelyn.
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