Intensive interaction

What is Intensive Interaction
“Intensive Interaction” is an approach designed to help people at early levels of development, people who have autism, people who have severe, profound or complex learning difficulties. Intensive Interaction works on early interaction abilities – how to enjoy being with other people – to relate, interact, know, understand and practice communication routines.” (from

So what does this mean? Well, some people with a learning disability may not understand speech or use speech. They may also have difficulty with social skills, so they might not use eye contact or take turns with others. They may behave passively – waiting for things to happen and not initiating; or they may be very active making it hard for people to know how to engage and interact with them.  These behaviours tell us they may be at an early stage of communication development.

Intensive Interaction is about encouraging communication skills and building better relationships with people. To achieve this, professionals supporting the individual adapt to the person’s communication needs or personal style. The focus of change is not so much on the person with a learning disability but on the professional or family member. As opposed to thinking that the person with the learning disability or autism is ‘hard to reach’ we try to make ourselves easier for them to reach us, by being more like them, reducing our speech, our behaviour and joining in with some of their behaviour.

How is Intensive Interaction used?
  • By progressively developing enjoyable and relaxed interaction sequences, where the practitioner is available for the person to communicate with, is responsive rather than directive and sensitively joins in with aspects of what the person is doing
  • By frequent repetition of interactions, they may develop in content, duration and sophistication over time
  • By using and developing the Fundamentals of Communication (see below) – the attainments that underpin and go on to develop speech and language. The Fundamentals of Communication are so foundational and essential to all subsequent learning that they should be the focus of our work with people who lack the ability or confidence to use them effectively.
How is Intensive Interaction useful?
It can be done anywhere and any any time, as long as the person is alert, relaxed and open to the interaction. For example it can be used within sensory room sessions, during personal care, while sat in the lounge in-front of the TV, while out shopping.

It promotes engagement, inclusion and active participation; it develops communication skills and confidence.

The evidence base shows increases in smiling, eye-contact, social initiation, socially significant physical contacts and vocalisations as well as reductions in challenging and self-injurious behaviour.

The Fundamentals of Communication
  • Enjoying being with another person
  • Developing the ability to attend to that person
  • Concentration and attention span
  • Learning to do sequences of activity with a person
  • Taking turns in exchanges of behaviour
  • Sharing personal space
  • Learning to regulate and control arousal levels
  • Using and understanding eye contacts
  • Using and understanding of facial expressions
  • Using and understanding other non-verbal communications
  • Learning use and understanding of physical contacts
  • Vocalising and using vocalisations meaningfully (including speech)

(from: Nind & Hewett 1994, 2001, 2005)

Where can I learn more about Intensive Interaction?
Have a look at the Intensive Interaction Institute  website.
We also run one-day Intensive Interaction courses: get in touch to find out about courses in your area.

See also the following books:

  • Nind, M. & Hewett, D. (2005). (2nd Ed). Access to Communication: developing the basics of communication in people with severe learning difficulties through intensive interaction. London
  • David Fulton.Goldbart, J and Caton, S (2010). Communication and people with the most complex needs: what works and why this is essential. MENCAP

How do you rate this page?

Thank you for your feedback

Follow us on social media to stay up to date

We are sorry you did not find this page helpful

Tell us how we can improve this page

Page last reviewed: 2 October, 2017