We just need to learn and find a different way…

As part of Autism Awareness Week we are looking at communication. Here Laura, Day Opportunities Manager in Southall talks about Intensive Interaction and how this has helped people we support who are not able to communicate verbally.

Samson hits himself on the head and glances in my direction, but his eyes are unfocused. I smile and tilt my head to mirror his position. He finds this amusing and his eyes suddenly light up, he looks cautious as he puts his finger in his mouth and hums. I do the same thing, concentrating on making my hum the same pitch and tone. Samson rocks in his wheelchair and makes a low-pitched noise, I try and keep in time to him and move myself a little closer to him as we sway. Knee to knee now his shoulders relax and the tenseness that was there leaves him, we bob and weave and vocalise together. He starts to watch my hands so I hold my right hand out to him palm up, I’m still rocking and humming along with him but I am offering him something else. We continue in this fashion for another minute or so and then suddenly he reaches out and holds my hand. I ask him if he is okay, he hums merrily in return, and we continue rocking and handholding. Samson puts out his foot and places it on my knee, Samson likes rhythm, and in time to the rocking I begin to pat his foot with my free hand. And this is where we stay for the next 15 minutes, in tune and engaged with one another. We are surrounded by people and different noises, lots of possible distractions. But in this moment the only person on the planet other than me is Samson.

Intensive interaction is a key communication tool for people with Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD). Samson needs to know that although external stimulus can be overwhelming I can help aid his transition from distressed to calm, he just needs to trust me. By mimicking his vocalisations, movements and expressions I show him I am hearing what he is communicating and by holding out my hand, I offer him the opportunity to safely transition back into the here and now. Samson offering me his foot to tap is his way of saying “I trust you, and I am starting to feel better.”

Intensive interaction sessions can be planned or unplanned; they are conversations through mimicking and offer of additional stimuli. The sessions aid people to communicate in a non-traditional way and let them express themselves. It’s also a bonding technique that helps create friendships and increases awareness of the other person’s moods and needs. The biggest thing to overcome is your own consciousness – if you can zone in, concentrate and forget everything else other than the person you are communicating with, you are set up for an amazing discovery. In a world that can be over stimulating, especially for people with autism, intensive interaction can calm and quieten everything down.

People we support at the Dominion all have profound needs and through lots of trial and error we have discovered that we can expand intensive interaction into a group setting, all of us listening and responding to every noise, movement and expression of each other, this in turn has enabled group friendships to form.

It’s important to know that just because someone with autism might not be able to communicate verbally it doesn’t mean that they can’t communicate or make decisions at all – it just means that we need to learn and find a different way…