III 2018 – VIDEO 4 – if you see us looking disengaged
The approach of connecting with someone using Intensive Interaction always begins with observation and moves to mirroring people’s actions, echoing their sounds and responding in other ways to let them know we’ve noticed them. Some people we visit can be involved in very self-stimulating behaviours. They can appear to the casual observer, to be ‘shut off’ from their surroundings, to be ‘locked’ in their own world.
However, by respectfully joining someone in their space and mirroring their body language and positioning, we begin the process of letting that person know that, no matter how ‘small’ the connection, we are willing to work hard to meet them in their world and at their pace. As we join them in whatever they are doing, our aim is to find out what it feels like and explore what they may find so stimulating and involving. From this point on, we discover, together, the enjoyment, fulfilment and stimulation that can be gained from us joining them in their world and sharing their experiences.
This process can sometimes take a long time, and can occasionally appear as if we are ‘disconnected’ from the person we are with. We may be sitting with our heads down, shoulders hunched over, possibly turned to face in the same direction as the person we are with and not looking at them or speaking to them. We are however, completely tuned in to them. We may not be seeking eye contact but we are observing their breathing patterns; their finger movements; the direction of their gaze.
We are noticing any changes in their attention, a flicker of eye contact or the slightest turn towards us that could offer us an opportunity to further connect with the person. Alternatively, the person could move ever so slightly and turn away from us, which would guide the direction of our movements or eye contact. We may effect a change in the energy levels of the interaction and reduce the focus for a minute, allowing the person some ‘breathing room’. This supports them to take stock and acclimatise to being the sole focus of someone’s attention.
Our working partner may be offering a subtle ‘running commentary’ of the movements, eye contact, facial expressions and responses of the person we are with. This communicates the subtle nuances of their responses to us or the environment, especially if our body language is such that we have a restricted view of their face for instance. It lets the person know we notice them and we value everything they do, and it also communicates to any observers that we are paying full attention to the person we are with and they are of the utmost importance to us in that moment.
The reasoning for this subtle, gentle way of connecting with some people is to give them the opportunity to be the sole focus of our attention, without having the ‘spotlight’ thrown on them in an obvious way. We are still communicating that they are the most important person to us, that everything they do has a significant impact on us and that we value who they are and what they do, but, in a way which is hopefully less challenging to accept and minimises any anxiety.
As an example, one lady we see, let’s call her ‘Jane’, sits in her wheelchair, very hunched over and with her eyes focused downwards. She moves her fingers ever-so slightly, rubbing the tips of her thumbs against the tips of her index and middle finger. She keeps her gaze focused downwards, and draws her posture in tightly, tensing her body when people get close to her. As we join her in this position, slowly and gently over time inching closer, and mirroring the movements of her fingers and her posture, we notice and explore when she raises her eyes and recognise she is doing this more the longer we spend with her.
We rub our fingers closer to hers, and the overall distance between us reduces, without Jane tensing up or becoming anxious. Through repetition and our willingness to persevere and take a step back when needed, the connection is forged and expanded. We end up spending time sitting side by side, with our hands next to each other and with a slightly open, relaxed posture. Our heads are lifted up slightly more, with a facial expression that feels more unguarded. We have occasional, fleeting eye contact. It is possible that, to the casual observer, it may have looked like a disconnected scene, with not much happening. They may have been unaware of the subtleties of our communicative connection with Jane and the time and gradual steps it took to get there.