Two communication approaches for children with Autism: Intensive Interaction and the Attention Bucket

On Friday I attended a conference: “Intensive Interaction and Play Techniques: encouraging Communication for Children with Autism”. I came back inspired — I can’t wait to try out the ideas!

Here’s a summary of two of the presentations.

Intensive Interaction

The keynote presentation was given by Dave Hewett, who, along with Melanie Nind, developed the Intensive Interaction approach. He pitched his talk at just the right level — making great use of video clips, the talk was both clear and fun.

Dave talked about the fundamentals of communication, such as enjoying being with another person, taking turns in exchanges of behaviour, and using and understanding eye contact. He questioned why most of the approaches we use to teach communication don’t attempt to teach these fundamentals of communication first. It seems obvious: if a child hasn’t acquired the fundamentals, it’s very difficult to learn anything else. So why do we tend to start by teaching symbolic representation?

Dave & co started working on Intensive Interaction because they felt the existing curriculum was inadequate — this was in the 1980s. He asked us to think about whether this is still the case today. We don’t expect babies to follow a timetable, so why do we expect this from children with Autism, some of whom are at the same developmental level?

Dave’s visualisation of communication learning and performance showed how complicated the process is. He suggested that the conventional linear teaching approach probably won’t work for something this complicated. He uses the idea of a spiral to describe learning through Intensive Interaction and play: learning takes off and spirals upwards; repetition means that each activity builds on what has gone before.

Again, this seems obvious to me. However, I often identify a target, and then consider which therapy activities I will use to work on it. Which takes me back to the linear model! I’m going to need to think about this: Dave suggested using video as a progress outcome, but I can’t write that on my goal sheet…

Attention: the Bucket

I also attended a workshop called: “Attention: getting it, building it and sharing it — the Bucket and Beyond”. Gina Davies started her session with a dancing chicken, giving us what she gives the children: “an irresistible invitation to learn.”

Like Dave, Gina also used video clips: she showed us a group of children with autism, before and after her 6 week program of attention work — it was amazing. The children in the ‘after’ clip were able to maintain such good attention that the Teaching Assistants in my group didn’t believe they were autistic.

As I understand it, Gina’s program works like this:

The children sit on chairs in a semi-circle facing the lead adult. The adult has an opaque bucket, with a lid on, containing highly motivating toys. She must be the most interesting thing in the room, so anything more interesting must be put out of sight. Along the same lines, the supporting adults should be boring! When a child gets up out of his chair, he must be slowly and calmly guided back to his seat — without verbal instructions.

The adult at the front takes out a toy from the bucket and demonstrates it to the children. The children’s reward must be intrinsic to the activity: the joy of watching a dancing pig! Gina suggested using 4 or 5 different toys in each session.

When the program begins, the children are only able to cope with sitting in their chairs for around 5 minutes, but after 2 mornings each week for 6 weeks they are able to maintain focussed attention for between 10 and 20 minutes. Each morning session is made up of around 4 cycles of 5 minutes bucket time and then a period of free play. Gina also said that at The Little Group, where she devised the program, they take the children running before they start the bucket time!

Gina was an outstanding presenter — I came home rambling on and on about buckets, and was so excited I had to text a friend, to share the bucket idea with her! I will definitely be giving this a try. I will also use it to support me in my quest to get the child-height sink removed from our therapy room; it’s competing with me as the most exciting thing in the room, so it has to go!

Gina also had lots of great ideas about motivating activities to do with the children once they had integrated attention. I need to email her and ask if I can add the flour castle, spagetti fireworks and lemonade fountain to this site!

2 thoughts on “Two communication approaches for children with Autism: Intensive Interaction and the Attention Bucket

  1. Felicia Ogunde

    Hello There,

    Thank you for your enthusiastic contribution to Intensive Interaction Theraphy! I have been looking for some information on this so I can see what I can do to help my 7 year old son who is ‘Moderately Autistic’. Have you heard of the ‘Son Rise’ programme developed by the Autistic Treatment Centre of America? I have been watching their DVDs too.

    I would like to have some proper training in this so that I can work with my son. According to the Son Rise programme, therapy time can range from starting with 30 minutes to 7 hours a day. Can you point me towards the direction of where to get more information and training from please?
    I have also contacted Dave Hewett through a website but I have had not any response yet.

    I would love to hear from you! Onve again, Thank you!

  2. Phil Harris

    I think Dave has got it exactly right.
    The world has gone target-mad. Our children’s learning is so much more complex than that, and a linear appoach and the use of targets (yawn), just doesn’t meet their needs. Targets are all about teaching and little about learning. We, as a profession, are obsessed with our own accountability (thanks for that, OFSTED)and the use of targets and the organisation of knowledge & skills using p scales and systems like B Squared merely fit in with that model. As Penny Lacey says, PMLD pupils are poor consumers of SMART targets. How right she is! The world is changing … people like Penny, Dave, Keith Park, those fantastic people down a the Bridge School in Islington and especially Peter Imray, are leading the way in developing a whole new paradigm for looking at fresh epistemological issues for our PMLD pupils. And about time too.

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