If you work with people who are at a pre-verbal stage of communication development or you have a family member whose skills are at this level, I strongly recommend that you check out an approach called Intensive Interaction. I’ve been using this approach for 10 years and in 2007 completed Dave Hewett’s Intensive Interaction Co-ordinator training (in my maiden name!).
Intensive Interaction was developed in the 1980′s by Melanie Nind and Dave Hewett in Harperbury Hospital School, an establishment for young adults with severe learning difficulties. It is a way of communicating with someone who is at an early, often pre-verbal, stage of their communication development and of developing their communication skills further. Often this is someone who may be considered ‘difficult to reach’ or communicate with. Intensive Interaction is based on principles of natural parent/baby interaction and is very well supported by a wealth of academic research.
Between being born and the age of about 5 years, humans typically go from being unable to communicate intentionally (on purpose) to becoming highly complex and versatile communicators using and understanding not just speech but a massive range of non-verbal and social communication skills. The most amazing thing about this is that we typically ‘just pick it up’ without ever being explicitly taught. Between birth and our first words at 18-24months we learn a huge amount about what are called ‘The Fundamentals of Communication‘, skills which include:
- Enjoying being with another person
- Using and understanding eye contact
- Using and understanding facial expression, gesture and personal space
- Joint attention or sharing an activity with someone else
- Taking turns
- Using and understanding physical contact
- Playing with vocalisations and realising that vocalisations have meaning
These skills are essential for learning to use more complex communication and spoken language later on. All of this learning takes place during natural face to face interaction with other people, primarily our parents. Interactive games like peek-a-boo, tickling games like ‘Round & Round the Garden’ and just babbling and copying your child’s sounds are all part of this complex learning and teaching process. Intensive Interaction is a way of continuing this sort of stimulation for people whose communication remains within this pre-verbal or early verbal stage of development.
The core principles of Intensive Interaction are:
- Let the learner lead the interaction which means that you as the teacher need to be prepared to join in with your learner’s activity. By doing this, you ensure that the interactive activity is familiar and comfortable for the learner which means that they do not have to expend concentration on learning a new game before they can focus on the communication learning. It also helps to build trust between you as the learner develops an understanding that you are not going to overwhelm them and that you are prepared to do the early communication equivalent of listening to them!
- Respond to what the learner does – you can do this in a variety of ways. You may like to copy what the learner is doing or reply with a ‘celebration’ like an exaggerated facial expression, sound or comment. If you respond using some spoken language, keep it simple, short and clear so that it is easily understandable to your learner.
- PAUSE! – This is so important! You must pause after a burst of activity to allow your learner to process your response and to give them an opportunity to reply to you in some way. Slowing the process of communication down in this way has many benefits. It allows you a chance to observe carefully and it allows the learner to demonstrate skills that may already be there but that they usually do not get to show because the pace of communication is usually too fast.
For more detail about Intensive Interaction, latest news from practitioners and upcoming training courses, visit the Intensive Interaction website. And finally, because the most effective way to see the impact of Intensive Interaction is to watch someone do it, click here to watch a You Tube video of some Intensive Interaction practitioners working with children in Romania. Suzanne Zeedyk, a well respected researcher in the field of early communication, provides a commentary. Sadly the picture quality is not as good as it could be but it should give you a flavour of the approach in action. You can also find this and other useful videos on the Blethers You Tube Channel. I hope you enjoy!