When someone joins an Us in a Bus session for the first time, it’s important that we observe carefully the things that seem to be of interest and importance to them – this is our first step in building connections between us.
We celebrate people’s skills and interests in various ways, using ourselves, as well as various pieces of sensory ‘equipment’. This is our starting point and we use our imagination to find activities that are relevant, social and interesting to each person.
Sometimes we might look and sound a bit ‘happy-clappy’ – but it’ll be for a reason, not just for the sake of it! We are not trying to entertain or keep someone occupied – there is more to communication than that. What we are exploring are the connections and responses that build up between us.
Of course, there will be frustrations and mis-connections along the way and this is where we need to be patient, to listen, wait and observe. We need to go at each person’s pace, not ours. They may walk away, not be in the mood, be sleepy – or just need more time to decide whether to let us into their world.
One of the approaches we use in our work is Intensive Interaction. This starts with observing then mirroring someone’s actions, or echoing their sounds. By doing this, we are celebrating the actions they will be most aware of, letting them know that we are acknowledging them, that the things they do are interesting and important to us as well as to them. We all like to be noticed – it’s a fundamental step in building a conversation. It is vital that the people we support feel that we have noticed and heard them – and that we are interested in what they want to do next.
By involving ourselves in their ‘language’ in this way, a shared activity evolves and we can carefully and imaginatively encourage and enhance interest in the social world.
The connection evolves and we begin to embellish movements and sounds by using sensory objects or pieces of equipment. However, some of the interactions that have seemed most connecting have involved no equipment at all.
The intensive aspect might come when we exaggerate responses and maybe begin to gently stretch someone’s comfort zones by carefully offering and re-offering an experience or an opportunity. All of us have had the experiences of stretching our comfort zones a little when we are relaxed and feel safe. In this way we can support people to be less fearful and to make more informed, personal choices.
As well as using imagination, Intensive Interaction, patience and equipment, humour can be a powerful tool. I have no qualms about being playful in a slapstick or a more subtle way. The lively interactions are easy to spot, and some of the more subtle ones might look as if nothing is happening – but in my experience sometimes these are the most satisfying and meaningful connections we have.
Tiw Rægening, Interaction Practitioner