University of Edinburgh

Intensive Interaction for children & young people with complex needs and sensory impairments

Presented on Friday, 2 October 2015


The focus of this day was on the communication needs of people who have not achieved use nor perhaps an understanding of speech and may be “difficult to reach” in various ways.

Intensive Interaction is an approach where the member of staff is seen as the main teaching resource, using personal qualities of face, voice and body language to involve the learner in progressive sequences of interactive activities. These activities provide the person with learning difficulties with the opportunity to learn the pre-speech fundamentals of communication such as enjoying being with another person, giving sustained attention, turn-taking, use and understanding of eye contacts, facial expressions, body language and non-verbal signalling.

The course included extensive use of video examples.

The programme covered:

  • the development of Intensive Interaction.
  • how people learn to communicate and relate in infancy.
  • the fundamentals of communication.
  • the principles of Intensive Interaction.
  • how to do Intensive Interaction.
  • organising work on Intensive Interaction.
  • record-keeping and documentation.
  • issues: age appropriateness, challenging behaviours, physical contact, teamwork, ethics, emotional bonding/professional objectivity.

Participants said:

"The whole event was inspiring, innovative and simple to carry out. It was all achievable."

"Loved everything about the day. The relevance of the content, the practical elements observed in the footage and was inspired by the enthusiasm and passion that very much came across in the presenters."

Target Audience

This course is of interest to staff of all disciplines who work with adults and children with severe learning difficulties, including social services staff, teachers and assistants, nurses, staff from voluntary organisations, therapists and parents and other carers.


Dr Dave Hewett, freelance trainer and consultant for staff working in the field of learning difficulties (previously Headteacher of Harperbury Hospital School, Hertfordshire).


10.10 am Background to the development of Intensive Interaction - teaching the pre-verbal fundamentals of communication

  • What are the fundamentals of communication in the pre-verbal stage, why are they important?
  • How communication and the ability to relate develops naturally during the first year of infancy.

Video Exercise

11.50 am Further discussion and consideration of the “natural model” of communication development and the principles of Intensive Interaction.

Second video exercise on the natural model.

How knowledge of these principles of learning helps in work for people with severe learning difficulties. Video examples.

2 pm Extensive use of video examples to illustrate techniques of Intensive Interaction in use with learners of a range of age and ability.
Issues considered during the course of the afternoon session: the importance of play, pleasure and enjoyment in motivation to participate

3.15 pm Age appropriateness - the use and role of physical contact in communication learning.

3.45 pm Course Evaluation and close