What are intensive interactions?
Intensive interactions are a way of supporting social engagement. This is most commonly used for people with learning difficulties and/or autism.
Intensive interactions are responsive in nature – there should be no focus on goals or targets. The essence of an intensive interaction is engaging with behaviours, sounds or motions that your child enjoys so that you’re doing them together or side by side.
The aims of intensive interaction include: increasing connection, working on foundational communication skills, building relationships and increasing confidence in communication. Ultimately, it’s about enjoying interaction and having fun with your child!
How do I practice intensive interactions?
The key to intensive interaction is following the other person’s lead, this means no expectation to meet demands they cannot cope with are being placed on the individual. The aim is to make the individual feel engaged, empowered and in control of the communication environment.
Begin by observing what your child is interested in – what activities, objects, motions or sounds are they currently engaging with? Remember, this is not a time to be working on communication goals or targets – the key is meeting your child where they are.
Once you’ve identified what your child is enjoying, you want to get down to their level – ideally face-to-face or side-by-side and engage with the child.
The following is a list of intensive interaction ‘techniques’ however the practise is very free-flowing and you’ll likely do multiple techniques during one session. Reading through these techniques, you’ll probably find you already naturally do many of them while engaging with your child!
- Making or exchanging eye contact – e.g. make a game of looking at each other and then looking away. You can use a mirror to encourage this.
- Behaviour mirroring – e.g. copy your child’s motions or behaviour.
- Sharing personal space – e.g. lie down next to your child, sit closely to them.
- Exchanging facial expressions – e.g. make clear, exaggerated (ideally positive!) facial expressions at your child.
- Vocal echoing – e.g. copy their words or sounds. Don’t always mimic, try and vary your tone.
- Joint focus activity – engage in the same activity as your child, but on your own. E.g. sitting down next to them building a tower and building your own tower.
- Physical contact – e.g. holding hands, clapping hand together, rubbing noses, rhythmic stroking of hands.
Finally, watch for your child’s response and respond accordingly. They may deliver a verbal or non-verbal sign that they want to continue the interaction.
Remember: consider all behaviour as a communication, even if you’re not quite sure what it means. Respond to every communication attempt – whether it’s an eye movement, vocalization or body motion. Being tuned into all these cues allows for your child to feel like a valued communication partner. This activity is about speaking your child’s ‘language’ – whatever that may be!
Tip: You may have to alter your usual communication style to make yourself seem less intimidating. Try to limit your speech, and experiment with altering your body language, gaze and tone of voice. Put aside all your pre-conceived ideas of what you think a communication exchange should be.
When can I practice intensive interactions?
You can practise intensive interaction at any time. Ideally, try and take the opportunities when they arise. Follow your child’s lead with it – as they may spontaneously show you moments when they are in the mood for being social. You may also spot opportunities during quiet moments, during care tasks or meal times.
It can also be helpful to plan some time into your day where quality interaction is the primary focus. Remove all distractions and give intensive interactions your full attention. However, during these less spontaneous times don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t engage – sometimes we simply aren’t in the mood to be social! Still continue with the practice.
Tip: Be patient! Don’t expect instant results. You may have to slowly build up the length of time you dedicate to intensive interactions .
Recording Intensive Interactions
Visit the Intensive Interaction website
This video by Kingfisher school shows some good examples of what intensive interactions can look like.
The resources are not affiliated with Leeds Mencap.