Explore how Intensive Interaction develops Autistic children’s communication
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Explore how Intensive Interaction develops Autistic children’s communication

Intensive Interaction is an approach that I might suggest for your child. Here is an overview of this approach to increase your knowledge. There are a range of approaches that overlap and having trained in them all I use them all interchangeably to tailor to each child individually. This approach is particularly good for children who work mostly to their own agenda and find it hard to engage with others.

So, what is Intensive Interaction?

According to its founder, Hewett (1980), the approach “involves mirroring a person’s actions, sounds and facial expressions.” This allows your child to recognise and form communication between themselves and another, in a fun, play-based setting. Attention and listening are the fundamentals to speech and language development. By using the Intensive Interaction approach, we can increase the time your child can attend for and with another person. We are working towards a child enjoying another person’s presence. We are hoping to make gains with playing together with a child, taking turns and achieving reciprocity. That is the platform which we need to start with to build communication, language, words and perhaps even speech.

There are many aspects that this approach supports:

  • such as using facial expressions
  • being in the presence of other people
  • having a shared space
  • attending to others
  • recognising and using non-verbal behaviours (e.g., gestures)
  • making sounds/noises (vocalisations) that have meaning
  • and eye contact. Although, we must be careful when suggesting ‘improving’ the use of eye contact. For some individuals making eye contact can be physically painful. So be aware that we are not making our children ‘look’ we are encouraging their natural behaviour.

Who benefits from Intensive Interaction?

Children with more complex communication and learning delay can benefit from the Intensive Interaction approach. Each session can be adapted to the needs of the individual and the sessions can be designed to use the whole or part of the approach. It is especially useful for children who are finding it hard to engage in any way socially with another person. Autistic children who tend to work to their own agenda often benefit from this approach.

How is Intensive Interaction implemented?

You need to have an environment that your child is comfortable in, and to be able to come down to their level so that you can see each other. This is why I often visit children in their own homes to ensure that they are comfortable and that they can withdraw for periods of time if they need to as well.

Ensure your child knows you’re there and you are 100% present. This is very important. I would recommend that you put your phone away for some 10 minutes or so and give your undivided attention to your child for that period of time.

Waiting

Waiting is very important: we need to give your child time to process what is happening around them. After waiting for a response, you might want to start copying any gestures they use, any facial expressions they make, or perhaps imitate any sounds. You’ll want to continue with this for a few minutes to see if the communication between you and your child changes. Remember always take the cues from your child; if they communicate a message with you, respond. It might be that they are ready to finish and that they’ve shown this by walking away or signing.

Giving your child a way to respond is vital. We can use visuals to support their communication. We can create ‘yes’ and ‘no’ symbols so they can use them in a functional way.

A top tip in these sessions is to use mirrors, so that your child can see and begin to recognise their own facial expressions.

There are other programmes that overlap with Intensive Interaction such as Hanen with following your child’s lead and the Gina Davies Curiosity Programme.

Now you know a bit about Intensive Interaction, why not book a call to discuss how we can support your Autistic child’s communication using this evidence-based approach.


Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

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