Approaches to Autism – What is Intensive Interaction

What is Intensive Interaction?


Intensive Interaction is an approach used to create a friendly, enjoyable, and nonthreatening communication environment for individuals who are at early stages of communication development.

Intensive Interaction is largely used with children, adolescents and adults who have severe learning difficulties or severe communication difficulties – autism can sometimes fall under these categories. It isn’t a blanket approach for all who are non-verbal – rather for individuals who almost seem completely non-communicative.

Of course many would argue that no-one is non-communicative, and the old cliche (which isn’t always accurate) of “all behaviour is communication” is brought out. However, there are many adults alive with severe learning difficulties who have not been well-treated in residential care, and who receive little more than their basic living needs met. Intensive Interaction is an approach that hopes to establish communication with individuals like this who have been failed by settings in the past.

There is also the dismissive sentence of “teach them a communication method that works for them” that is thrown out by many people online when parents ask for advice for their autistic children. It seems that some people forget that not every autistic child can be given a keyboard or an iPad and automatically start communicating in complex sentences. For some people, Intensive Interaction is where you need to start, by establishing the very basics of communication and relationships in a non-threatening environment.

The general idea of Intensive Interaction is to take an individual’s methods of communicating with themselves (actions they like to carry out, stimming or self-calming methods) and gently reflect them back to them. In the early stages it will rather feel like you are simply copying the individual – when they flick their fingers, you flick your fingers, when they make a noise, you make the same or a similar noise. This isn’t mimicry or an attempt to mock – and autistic adults have reported that attempts to meet them in their world and use their language made them feel a lot safer when they were children. Donna Williams described hearing one of her own noises echoed back to her as like a life buoy being thrown to her through the chaos around her.

Of course Intensive Interaction progresses beyond this to build up connections, relationships and communication opportunities between individuals – but the simplicity of the early stage means that anyone can try it. As the interactions progress the hope is to teach the individual to accept another’s presence, initiate communication, use and attend to facial expressions and body language, engage in turn taking, and experiment with their vocalisations and movement to learn about cause and effect within communication.

Whilst I will leave it there for this introductory post, I will also leave you with three of the biggest names in Intensive Interaction who are all still practicing:

Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind have worked together and researched and practiced Intensive Interaction for decades, websites they are involved in are:

Pheobe Caldwell has also been researching, writing about, and practicing Intensive Interaction for decades. Her website is:

Until next time.

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