Intensive Interaction was first developed during the nineteen-eighties by the team of staff working at Harperbury Hospital School, Herfordshire. Harperbury was a school for people who have severe learning difficulties on the campus of a large long-stay hospital in southern England. The developments followed the work of the late Geraint Ephraim Ph.D, a psychologist. The traditional teaching methods being used with the clients were not working and many clients were violent both to themselves and others. He proposed a new more humanitarian approach based on psychological principles, which involved working with clients in their way and following their lead.

Dave Hewett Ph.D and Melanie Nind Ph.D, were teachers at Harperbury School, and they carried out Intensive Interaction research projects at the school as part of the development work. This work was found to be extremely successful. Since then, they have published a number of important books on the approach (e.g. ‘Access to Communication’ London: David Fulton 1994) and extensive other publications. They have led workshops up and down the country on the approach and it is now widely used by many other practitioners nationwide including Phoebe Caldwell who has led a training day at Castle Hill School.

Studies in psychology show that although children have an innate capacity to learn language in any form, be it spoken, visual, nonverbal or written, it is vital that they experience social interaction for these skills to develop. Research suggests that babies learn from social interactions by imitation, naturally. A baby as young as one week old will start imitating facial gestures, mouth movements, and tongue protrusion. Interactions and encouragement from care givers at this stage are essential for helping children learn language skills. The more positive the interactions, the more advanced the development of language appears. From the very beginning, the interactive patterns usually start with the baby cooing and the care giver cooing or smiling back, which in turn encourages the baby to coo again and so on. This forms connections in the babies brain between their own body and the external responses they receive and is the crucial beginnings of early communication.

In young children who have developed speech, the adult speaking often repeats the child’s own sentence back, but slightly longer. For example if a child says ‘doggie not eating’, the adult may repeat’the dog is not eating’. This form of imitation helps the child develop their language skills further.

In addition to developing language and social interaction skills, this pattern of interaction also helps secure attachment relationships between child and carer, which then in turn contribute to cognitive development. Such imitation requires time and many rehearsals may be needed for learning to take place. In conclusion copying, imitation and using the child’s style is an essential part of language and social development from the very beginning of a child’s life.

In view of this knowledge in the field of psychology and the success shown by practitioners, Intensive Interaction is an approach now recommended by BILD, British Institute for Learning Disabilities, and the department of education. It is used by many schools in this country but also worldwide, in places as far afield as Romania and Australia. It has been extensively researched and shown to be effective with many children and adults.