Nancy Keeley, Us in a Bus Practitioner, describes in wonderful detail an Intensive Interaction session with Julia, held over Zoom due to Covid-19 restrictions.
It never ceases to surprise me how connected and satisfying Zoom interactions can be! The staff now know where to position the tablet so that I can clearly see Julia’s face, hands and legs. Close enough for us to see each other, but not so close that she can knock me over with her lively legs! I’m so grateful for their help in making these sessions work.
This morning, Julia greeted me with a broad smile and engaging, focused eye contact. She sat in what seems to be her favourite arm chair, with her legs crossed and curled up in front of her, chewing and sucking the fingers of one hand. I sang my usual greeting song, and Julia tilted her head to one side, giving an even bigger smile. She then took her hand out of her mouth and moved the fingers of both hands in a rubbing/flicking action. I continued to sing the ‘greeting song’ tune, but changed the words to reflect Julia’s flicky fingers. I mirrored her actions too. When Julia returned her hand to her mouth, I stopped singing and smacked my lips, playfully guessing what her fingers tasted of…. strawberries? chocolate? banana? Was it her breakfast? What did she have for breakfast? Throughout this exchange, Julia looked at me with a smile and twinkly, seemingly amused, eyes. Although not typical, ‘pure’ Intensive Interaction, she was in control. She had my attention and I was showing my wonder in her actions and preferences.
Every time Julia took her hand out of her mouth and rubbed her fingers, I returned to the same ‘greeting song’, changing the words to something that matched her cheery mood and sense of humour…. for example, did she like the silly song? how long did I have to sing it for!!? when would she tell me to stop? Julia’s smile and occasional ‘huh!’ laugh indicated to me that she knew she could ‘conduct’ me, and was enjoying my animated voice and expressions.
Having exhausted the number of foods her fingers could taste of, I wondered if they also made a noise. They did! Every time she put her fingers in her mouth I responded with a variety of sounds…woofs, meows, quacks and mooooos. This resulted in more laughy ‘huh’’s from Julia, and what sounded like a ‘mooooo’ too! My song (still to the tune of the ‘greeting song’, and sung whenever she returned to finger flicking!) now playfully astounded at how she could eat a dog, cat, duck….!
This repetitive scenario continued for our entire time together, with no indication from Julia that she was tiring of our ‘Joke’.
These are tricky times for Intensive Interaction, with the restrictions of social distancing and remote, tech led, communication making engagement challenging. However, moments like this (and many others I’ve had in the last year) highlight what we already know…. that Intensive Interaction results in meaningful and connected relationships. Admittedly, extra creativity is often needed to establish and maintain engagement. Some days are harder than others. I find myself exploring the moveable boundary between entertainment, which is not Intensive Interaction, and making my responses as entertaining as possible. During Covid times especially, it is important to recognise the flexibility of this boundary and to be kind to ourselves. Knowing the purpose of our engagement is always at the front of our minds and this awareness guards against interactions too heavily weighted to entertainment. Reflecting on my time with Julia today, I used many of the Intensive Interaction principles of engagement such as (mirroring, pauses, repetition, following Julia’s lead etc.) I also feel reassured that I covered Nind’s Intensive Interaction 5 key elements:
- The creation of mutual pleasure and interactive games: being together with the purpose of enjoying each other
- Staff adjusting their interpersonal behaviours in order to become more engaging and meaningful for the person
- Interactions flowing naturally in time: with pauses, repetitions and blended rhythms
- The attribution of intentionality: responding to a person’s behaviour as if it were communicatively significant
- The use of contingent responding: following a person’s lead and sharing control of the activity
It was great fun too!