Adelaide West Special Education Centre

Intensive Interaction

Intensive Interaction is an approach to teaching the pre-speech fundamentals of communication to children or young adults who are pre-verbal, or pre-lingual; have profound, multiple learning disabilities and complex learning difficulties; are difficult to reach (seeming to prefer to be away from human contact); have autism spectrum disorders and/or a developmental delay. The approach was developed by Dave Hewett (PhD) and Melanie Nind (PhD), teachers at Harperbury School.

Intensive Interaction teaches the fundamentals of communication, which may be characterised as follows:

  • Learning to give brief attention to another person
  • Sharing attention with another person
  • Learning to extend  attention and concentrate on another person
  • Developing shared attention into activities
  • Taking turns in exchanges of behaviour
  • Having fun or playing
  • Using and understanding eye contact
  • Using and understanding facial expressions
  • Using and understanding non-verbal communication such as gesture and body language
  • Using and understanding physical contact
  • Using and understanding vocalisations which become increasingly varied, extensive, precise and meaningful


Intensive Interaction is highly practical. Much of the development of the approach is based on scientific research into the way in which human beings learn to communicate in the early years. The only equipment needed is a sensitive and intuitive person to be the interaction partner. The approach works by progressively developing a repertoire of enjoyable and relaxed interaction sequences between the interaction partner and the learner. These interactions are repeated frequently and gradually grow in duration, complexity and sophistication. As this occurs, the fundamentals of communication are gradually rehearsed and learnt in a free-flowing manner. The style of the partner is relaxed and responsive. In fact, a central principle of Intensive Interaction is that the social exchange should be learner-led.
The sessions are frequent and quite intense, but also fun-filled and playful. Both participants should be at ease, with enjoyment of the activity as a main motivation. A session might be highly dynamic, with a great deal of vocalisation and fun-filled physical contact. Alternatively, it may be peaceful, slow and quiet.
There is a commitment to Intensive Interaction at Adelaide West Special Education Centre. It is an area in which staff, through ongoing professional development and practice, will grow in expertise.

teacher holding girls hand                      teacher with student