The Communication Game!

Sometimes it’s hard to be patient, especially when the person you’re speaking to just isn’t getting it.

For example, imagine that you’re trying to explain to someone that you want to use the lawnmower. You’re signing /lawnmower/, and they keep agreeing with you but signing /home/. So you point to the shed right there in the farmyard, hoping that they’ll get the message…, and then they sign /home/ again! You listen carefully to what they’re saying and realise that they think you mean your shed at home. Carefully, you take their hand and guide it to the farm shed, gently touching their finger to the wood, then sign /lawnmower/ once again. They look confused and ask about your shed at home yet again. Finally, you take them by the hand and walk them backwards a little, pointing at the farm’s lawnmower right there in the shed. The person you’re trying to explain to starts to laugh, and finally replies that you can’t use the farm’s lawnmower because it’s time to go home, but that they’ll ask whether you can use it next time. Satisfied with that answer, you happily skip to the car to go home.

When I first met Adam, it was with a reputation that preceded him. New to the service, I had been told much about this tall and long-limbed young man, whose communication frustrations frequently boiled over into hitting, head-butting and hair-pulling. He was supported 3:1 on his education programme, with staff changing often as they became tired of managing his volatile behaviour. Our first meeting was insalubrious, as I arrived at his house alongside his staff team for the day to decide whether a cut he had received during an incident with another provider was too deep to allow him to come out with us that day. Adam was confused, frustrated and on edge, requiring the cajoling of all present to get safely into the car to begin his day. Constantly in motion and inarticulately agitated, Adam’s quality of education and support suffered daily from poor connections and misunderstandings.

Enter Intensive Interaction. First one staff member was trained, as a trial, then the majority of Adam’s team. The staff were initially wary of this new concept, concerned about how outsiders would see their copying of Adam’s vocalisations, and embarrassed at the thought of being filmed at work. But the benefits from having just one staff member trained were already beginning to show, and the whole team put their hesitations behind them and got stuck in to this new way of teaching Adam to communicate.

The changes – small though they might seem to an outsider – were dramatic. Adam began to use a wider range of Makaton signs, some of which he seemed to have remembered from school rather than being taught anew. In rare, peaceful moments Adam even tried spoken words: orange, bubble, book. Most significantly of all was the way Adam began to smile whenever Intensive Interaction was used. Every new connection seemed to thrill him and he began to request these exchanges, pointing to the chosen staff member who was to reply to his vocalisations and beaming when his directions were followed.

Adam became determined to get his point across effectively, and began in turn to mimic our systems of communication, combining gestures, pictures, signs, points of reference and repetition to convey complex messages about his thoughts, needs and preferences. We found that he was able to refer to past events and enquire about future ones, make jokes, and agree a compromise – all things we did not know he could do. Adam was showing us that he knew we could and would understand him, if only he could get the code right… and the code was in his hands.

Standing in the farm yard that day in June, I didn’t know that there was a lawnmower (one of Adam’s favourite sources of sensory feedback) in the farm shed. I thought Adam was seeking my reassurance that he could use the lawnmower at home, and was trying to give that to him, interpreting his gestures as best I could. Back in September, Adam had thrown a CD player at my head during a similar misunderstanding, but not this time. Instead, he used the skills we’d been using with him – patience, calmness, repetition, trying different forms of communication – to get his point across.

Thanks to Intensive Interaction, Adam was able to take my hand, step past his autistic spectrum condition and severe learning difficulties, and teach me something new. What a moment!

Christine Woodhams
Programme Coordinator
No Limits East Midlands


  • Bruce Smith says:

    Very well written Christine and it goes to show how valuable Intensive Interactions can be in the complex support we offer to young people such as Adam. Huge thanks as ever to Gwenne, Anita and the team for all their support and guidance with Adams package.

  • Callum Laffar says:

    Really good article Christine. As a new starter myself back in September I was also aware of the precautions surrounding Adam. When i first met him we seemed to develop a strong relationship almost instantaneously. The initial barriers was with communication and my lack of understanding of Adam’s signs and the meaning behind Adam pointing at an object of reference. After doing the Intensive Interactions training as a staff team we all benefited. Staff were using different methods of communication and Adam was responding. Adam felt empowered to communicate back knowing we had an understanding of what he was trying to say. My relationship with Adam only grew stronger and when on shift together we were always up to some mischief! A lovely young man, supported by great members of staff and always looked forward to my day with Adam.

  • Jenny Hunt says:

    I found this to be very interesting and enlightening Christine! It’s good for people like me to hear about the challenges you face and how you deal with them. This seemed to be a real success story! Well done to you and your team!

  • Alison Baker says:

    That’s brilliant Christine. It’s great to hear about the progress Adam has made and also about the use of Intensive Interaction.

  • Maria Fiddimore says:

    A really interesting blog, thank you Christine. Many ( many!) years ago I completed two days of intensive interaction training and can honestly say that the approach and thinking behind this has stayed with me since, powerful stuff indeed. Clearly still having such positive impact, thank you for sharing

  • Kate Webb says:

    Love this so much. Thankyou. What a super start to International II week!! ☺

  • Emma Killick says:

    A very well written and thought provoking blog Christine thank you – it was a pleasure to read and understand the journey you all went on together.
    Thank you also for being so honest about staff anxieties concerning how they may be perceived by others when using these techniques as well as being embarrassed about being filmed. Both perfectly understandable reactions but hopefully reading about the benefits for Adam will help others to take the leap of faith and use this approach too.

  • Isalet Mutua says:

    Thank you for sharing this. Promoting positivity and getting communication right as much as possible goes a long way.

  • alison wright says:

    Fabulous, enlightening article Christine

  • Lyn Mawhinney says:

    Fantastic article showing that Intense Interactions has such a huge impact on communication , trust ,giving empowerment ,and has such a positive impact.
    For anybody thank hasn’t been on the training , I would certainly 100% recommend this course

  • Jackie Alexander says:

    Thank you for sharing a brilliant blog, I really enjoyed reading this!

  • Darren Bowen says:

    Most probably one of the best blogs I’ve read here. I have no words except faith in humanity restored. An absolute pleasure to read.

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