Intensive Interaction: History
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Intensive interaction is an approach for teaching communication skills to children and adults who have autism, severe learning difficulties and profound and multiple learning difficulties who are still at early stages of development. The approach focuses on teaching the fundamentals of communication – the communication concepts and performances that precede speech development, though it may include many people who have some speech and language development.

  • children and adults
  • speech and language
  • autism

1. History

Intensive interaction was developed by teachers Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind at Harperbury Hospital School in Southern England during the 1980s.[1] The development of the approach came about partly as a result of practitioners questing for effective teaching approaches and partly as a reaction to and move away from the dominance of behavioural psychology in the field. A psychologist, the late Geraint Ephraim, working at Leavesden Mental Hospital, propounded the original formulation of techniques known then as "Augmented Mothering". This name was later changed to "Intensive Interaction" to make it clear that the approach is able to meet the needs of children and adults of any age.[2] The detailed development work resulted in the first research projects and publications by Nind and Hewett.

The techniques of teaching borrow from understandings as to how infants in the first two years carry out the learning of these highly complicated, critical concepts and abilities. The mass of research on babies learning in interactions with adults that has arisen since the mid-1970s, allows some simple pedagogical insights. Babies gradually accrue these complex performances by taking part in many successive, cumulative interactions with the adults around them. The main learning motivation for both participants is the mutual enjoyment of the interaction. The natural adult style is to construct the interaction basically, mostly, by allowing the baby to lead with her behaviour, with the adult building the content and a flow by responding to the behaviour of the baby. It is usually observed that the most frequently seen adult response is to imitate what the baby does. Thus the teaching is highly responsive and by process, rather than directive and driving to an objective.

For the developers of intensive interaction, it seemed a logical step to borrow from these processes in order to ignite the communication learning of many people who can frequently be considered "communicatively difficult to reach", often living with some, or extensive, social isolation. Thus, intensive interaction activities are literally highly interactive, with the teacher enjoyably working from the behaviour of the learner. The activities can operate at many levels of intensity; they can be active and physical, but also quietly intense and contemplative. For good progress to occur, the activities should happen frequently (daily, day after day), with the repetition of successful activities within sessions providing the basis for the gradual expanding in duration, content, sophistication and complexity of those activities.

The gradual dissemination of intensive interaction since the late 1980s has been a completely practitioner-led initiative. Intensive interaction is now common practice in special schools and adult services all over the United Kingdom. Interest worldwide is growing and developing. There are a range of books and other materials now available and a burgeoning community of intensive interaction practitioners.

2. Intended Use

Intensive interaction is intended to address the needs of:

  • People who are pre-verbal, with few or limited communicative behaviours.
  • People who are extremely socially withdrawn, and do not positively interact with other people.
  • People who display various stereotyped or self-stimulatory behaviours that exclude the participation of other people.[1]

The "fundamentals of communication" are typically referred to as being attainments such as:

  • enjoying being with another person
  • developing the ability to attend to that person
  • concentration and attention span
  • learning to do sequences of activity with the other person
  • taking turns in exchanges of behaviour
  • sharing personal space
  • using and understanding eye contacts
  • using and understanding facial expressions
  • using and understanding physical contacts
  • using and understanding non-verbal communication
  • using vocalisations with meaning (for some, speech development)
  • learning to regulate and control arousal levels

3. Further Reading

  • Firth, G., Berry, R. & Irvine, C. (2010) Understanding Intensive Interaction: Context and Concepts for Professionals and Families. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Firth, G. & Barber, M. (2011) Using Intensive Interaction with a Person with a Social or Communicative Impairment. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
  • Hewett, D. (Ed) (2011) Intensive Interaction - Theoretical Perspectives. London: Sage Publications.
  • Hewett, D., Firth, G., Barber, M. & Harrison, T. (2012) The Intensive Interaction Handbook. London: Sage Publications.
  • Hewett, D. & Nind, M. (Eds) (1998) Interaction in Action: Reflections on the Use of Intensive Interaction. London: David Fulton.
  • Kellett, M. & Nind, M. (2003) Implementing Intensive Interaction in Schools: Guidance for Practitioners, Managers and Coordinators. London: David Fulton.
  • Nind, M. & Hewett, D. (2005) Access to Communication (2nd edition): Developing the basics of communication with people with severe learning difficulties through Intensive Interaction. London: David Fulton.

The content is sourced from:


  1. "Introducing intensive interaction | The Psychologist". 
  2. "Intensive Interaction – learning their language" (in en-US). 
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