A Speech and Language Therapist (SALT) who I had met at one of my workshops recently raised the thorny question, which she had been asked, of ‘Should we use Intensive Interaction when in public?’  Thorny, because maybe the question might reveal more about people’s comfort zones than it does about what is in the best interests of the person they are supporting.

I think this is a really important question; the SALT who raised the issue was spot-on about us ALL being bound by the idea of social normality and fearing judgement.  When we are able to step through our own comfort zone, switch our ‘self’ consciousness into consciousness of the person we are supporting, then we are able to give them the support the need most, when they need it, irrespective of place.

A few of my thoughts:

  • We all have public and private ways of communicating (the way I yell at my husband in the supermarket is different from the way I yell at him at home!).  This can be reflected in our intensive interactions.  My public way of responding to the person’s movements or sounds might be more muted in a crowded place than they would be in a private one.  But the important thing is that I am still responding in a way that the person recognises/expects/needs me to.  We can encourage carers and families to explore how they can be more muted but still be responsive (e.g. using touch in response to sound or movement).
  • In some situations, when our person is becoming stressed, we know that if we do not acknowledge them through Intensive Interaction, then their distress will increase to the point of melt-down.  Most of us would prefer that not to happen in public, for our person’s sake and for our own!  I can’t think of a better reason for disregarding our own shyness or discomfort about Intensively Interacting in public – it’ll attract a LOT less notice than a full-blown demonstration of distress.
  • Having some cards in your pocket, printed with the message “I see you are watching me using Intensive Interaction to support my friend/son. If you want to know more please call me later or visit www.intensiveinteraction.co.uk” can make a huge difference to how comfortable you feel.  You may never use them, but knowing you can wordlessly offer an explanation to a stranger (who may be genuinely concerned, not just nosey or judgemental) will increase your confidence.  And you have just advocated for your person to have the type of support they need exactly when they need it, in order to be part of the community like everyone else.  (It’s very easy to print your own cards these days).

So I absolutely agree with the SALT that intensively interacting in public is fine – it gives the person the message that they are worthy of being listened to and that rapport can be maintained wherever they are, even if it is in a slightly different way from when they are at home.  Roll on the inclusive and integrated society!

Janet Gurney

Director of Training

Recent Comments


by Joelle Francon-Parr

This is an interesting question and I am going to share a spontaneous conversation I have had yesterday with a young lady who I knew from the past when I work in a residential home in France . Nathalie has got pmld and autism , she arrived with her career at the hair dresser where I was too , she shouted in a regulars rhythm and tapped her head . She looked at me and walked towards me . I looked at her too and I echoed her sounds in the same rhythm , pressing my head with my hand . . She came closer to me stopped shouting and took my hand and pressed my hand on her head , we exchanged prolonged eye contact . She seemed to recognise me and I thought that if I wanted to let her know rthat I recognised her too , I needed to talk with Nathalie in her langage even if we were in the community . If i wanted to be understood by her it appeared to me as an evidence that intensive interaction is the best and may be the unique way to communicate with Nathalie .

Ps: The salon was full of clients and I didn’t feel some strange and judgmental look from anybody , may be because Nathalie and I communicate in a very natural way !

April 20, 2017 @ 21:07 reply

    by Us in a Bus

    Thanks Joelle for your lovely description of Intensive Interaction at the hairdressers! You painted a simple, clear image of genuine, meaningful and inclusive connection. And especially pleasing to know that other people in the salon saw the connection rather than the difference.


    April 28, 2017 @ 15:31 reply

by Alix Lewer

Well said Janet!

‘Muted but responsive’ is a fair way of describing how I respond to my son in the supermarket too…

I understand that people may feel uncomfortable communicating differently in different places, but it is so
important to use inclusive communication skills in public – if we don’t:

a) we risk implying that inclusive communication is something to be hidden and ashamed of
b) we miss an opportunity to demonstrate ways of respecting people’s communication skills which people could learn from
c) intensive interaction and other inclusive communication (e.g. signing, use of pictures) will never be viewed as ‘acceptable’ / ‘normal’

and most importantly

d) people with learning disabilities / autism will continue to be excluded from their own community

Saying that we should only use inclusive communication skills to help people interact successfully in private is a bit like saying someone with a wheelchair should only use a ramp to enter a building when no-one is looking!

April 21, 2017 @ 07:35 reply

    by Us in a Bus

    I love the analogy of only using an access ramp when no-one is looking Alix!

    I remember Phoebe Caldwell describing it as taking someone’s spectacles away; if I know these prescription lenses correct this woman’s short-sightedness, then I’m not going to deliberately remove them when she needs them most. In the same way, I shouldn’t stop communicating with someone, in the way that includes them most effectively, just because someone might notice.


    April 28, 2017 @ 15:30 reply

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Published by

Us in a Bus

20 Apr 2017

Linking Lives

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