Content for Families, Carers and Professionals

Intensive Interaction

This post has been kindly written for us by Liz Beattie, a Speech and Language Therapist and creater of the Tabtoob.

Type “Intensive interaction” into Google and you will find page after page of links to definitions, descriptions and videos that will give you are far better understanding of the theory and practice of intensive interaction than I ever could in a short post. Instead I will attempt to convey the enthusiasm that I have for intensive interaction as both a learning tool and probably more importantly, a fun and rewarding activity for you and your child.

I have even included a couple of links at the end of the blog to save you the trouble of doing the typing.

Firstly, you are probably doing intensive interaction already. As with most truly powerful therapy techniques intensive interaction is based on behaviours, which are naturally occurring between parent and child. Unfortunately because they are natural they are often seen as “messing around” or “playing” and are undervalued massively by parents and professionals alike.

Intensive interaction is communication in its purest and most inclusive form. The constraints of formal communication such as speech, symbols and sign are stripped away and the nonverbal, preverbal or unintentional communication left, allow two people to relate to each other on a basic human level. Professionals and parents, be prepared to surrender your role as expert or teacher, as unlike most other therapies, you aren’t imposing formal speech, sign or symbol on the child. You are learning the language of the individual andthey are in charge!

If all that sounds too hippie and touchy feely for you, I would recommend that you go to the links provided below as they will detail the many studies that show that intensive interaction has a positive impact on the people with whom it is used. In my personal experience as a speech and language therapist of 20 years using intensive interaction has been that I have never met a child whose communication skills have not been enhanced through using it.

The opportunity to ‘do’ intensive interaction is a privilege and a joy. Here are some hints to make it successful:

• Give yourself time; many individuals with complex needs require time to process sensations and their reactions may be delayed, unexpected and small. A video camera or iPad can be your greatest tool, it may be only when you review the video of your time together that you recognise that the person has been reacting, initiating or even turn taking however it went unnoticed at the time because they occurred outside the ‘normal’ time frame of an interaction.

• Time will give you opportunity to truly observe; by tuning into another’s being, notice I use the word ‘being’ rather than ‘behaviour’. That was deliberate as behaviour implies something overt. Many people without formal communication are very passive and interacting with them requires being aware of heart rate, breath patterns or blinking.

• Finally imitate. Imitation is the most powerful communication tool you have. By imitating you are handing over control to the other person, they take the lead, become the initiator, the teacher, the powerful one. This must be an amazing feeling for someone who is often a passive recipient of care, communication and support.

Finally intensive interaction is just plain fun a wonderful time that is all really about connecting with someone you want to be with and who wants to be with you

For a more detailed visual explanation Matthew Laurie, from has adapted his Intensive Interaction Essentials Engagement Profile Explanation graphic for us to reflect the parent/child relationship. Its great because it shows step by step what communication is, and what to look for. This is an "essential" chart when reading this post, but also in what to look for in pre-verbal communication. Click here


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