What is intensive interaction?

Intensive interaction is a play-based approach to help children develop early, pre-speech communication and interaction skills. It also aims to reduce repetitive and self-injurious behaviour. The claim is that it helps children learn how to engage with other people for progressively longer periods in gradually more complex and diverse activities.

Who is intensive interaction for?

Intensive interaction is for people of all ages who have difficulty communicating. This includes people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including those who are at an early stage in learning how to communicate, and those who have some speech but would benefit from developing their communication skills.

What is intensive interaction used for?

Intensive interaction helps children learn basic communication skills like focusing attention and taking turns in activities.

Where does intensive interaction come from?

Intensive interaction was developed in the 1980s in the United Kingdom by Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind, who were working at the Harperbury Hospital School for children with severe learning difficulties.

What is the idea behind intensive interaction?

Intensive interaction is based on research findings about how parents help babies and young children develop social awareness and learn to communicate in the early years.

What does intensive interaction involve?

The intensive interaction practitioner plays with the child, responding to what the child does by imitating and joining in, much like a parent imitates and takes turns with a baby. The practitioner develops the play into activities and games that explore and practise communication skills.

The interaction goes at the child’s pace and follows the child’s interests, and the practitioner pauses to watch what the child does next before responding. The session stops when the child has had enough.

To start with, the sessions might last just a few minutes, but they get longer as the child’s skills develop.

Intensive interaction happens whenever there’s a chance to do it. For young children, this might be several times a day. Intensive interaction often takes place as part of the child’s day at a special school or day centre.

Cost considerations

Intensive interaction usually takes place as part of your child’s day at a special school or early childhood education service, so the costs are included in your child’s school or service costs.

Does intensive interaction work?

More high-quality studies are needed to find out whether this treatment is effective for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who practises intensive interaction?

Teachers and other professionals usually do intensive interaction at special schools and early childhood education services, but anyone can learn to do it.

You and other family members can use intensive interaction at home, or a professional like a speech pathologist, occupational therapist, support worker or teacher could work with your child.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

You can be involved in developing an intensive interaction program with a practitioner or teacher, and you can then use the program at home. You can also use videos to learn intensive interaction.

Where can you find an intensive interaction practitioner?

Your local autism association or local council can help you find a practitioner or a school that uses intensive interaction.

If you’re interested in using intensive interaction with your child, it’s a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA plannerNDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.