Brief Background

I qualified as a Special Educator in UK in 1979 and worked as a teacher and latterly for The University of Manchester until leaving for Australia in 2003. I have been involved in the education of learners with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities [PIMD] for over 25 years, both as a teacher and a consultant. My professional interest has always focussed on supporting people with this level of disability to learn about communicating and helping them to build relationships with others.

Since arriving in Melbourne, I have continued to work in the classroom, both directly with students with very complex needs, but also working alongside their teaching teams and allied health professionals. My role at Bayside Special Developmental School involves supporting staff to develop their skills as communicators and interactive partners and to support learning through cognitively appropriate and socially inclusive learning experiences. My part time position at Bayside SDS enables me to deliver training to a range of schools and agencies across the country. Since introducing the approach known as Intensive Interaction to Australia in 2003 at the AGOSCI conference in Sydney, I have worked with staff from over 100 schools and agencies from all of Australia’s states.

Why Intensive Interaction?

I became aware of what became known as ‘Interactive Approaches’ to teaching when I was looking for a more realistic and respectful way of supporting the learning of young people with PIMD to learn, than the behavioural techniques I was equipped with as a student teacher in the 1970s. I became involved in the teacher ‘working parties’ in Manchester UK which culminated in the publication of the Affective Communication Assessment (Jane link to ACA on relevant page) in 1985. This collaboration led me to work with Judith Coupe O’Kane at Melland Special School in Manchester and latterly with Dr Juliet Goldbart from Manchester Metropolitan University. Over the following few years I was guided towards further investigation of the various perspectives of learning and their application in the context of PIMD. I was lucky enough to be supported to embark on a period of research examining why learners with PIMD find it so hard to learn. This evolved into a PhD thesis under the inspirational supervision of Dr Juliet Goldbart. The findings identified in my research contradicted many of the theories I had previously accepted and highlighted the following principle;

‘It is not the flexibility of the learner’s skills that enables them to interact successfully….. but the flexibility of the situation that allows the inclusion of the learner’

Put another way….

It is not the actions of the learner that are important, but the skills of those who interpret them.

This principle led me to investigate and adopt an approach which I had been aware of for a number of years but had not fully focused on until then: Intensive Interaction. Intensive Interaction is an approach to supporting learners with very complex intellectual disabilities to communicate and be social. It is founded on the principle that whatever the learner can do is enough, because their Intensive Interaction partner will respond to potentially communicative acts with a conversational, affirming and recognisable response. Using Intensive Interaction re-focuses the attention of the practitioner on the contribution and interests of the learner rather than on the agendas of the teacher. Thus the learner’s interests become the context for assisting them to explore and enjoy communication. I hope this website assists you to investigate Intensive Interaction.

‘Through Intensive Interaction we can shift our vision of our sons and daughters from impaired versions of ourselves to fulfilled versions of themselves’

[Parent comment on an evaluation form]

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