Specialist Play Service - Intensive interaction

What is intensive interaction

Intensive interaction can be a play-based approach to helping children develop early, pre-speech 
communication and interaction skills, like eye contact, facial expressions, the ability to copy 
sounds, and shared attention. It also aims to reduce repetitive and self-injurious behaviour.

The learning intentions or outcomes of Intensive interaction are usually summarised under the 
heading of the ‘Fundamentals of Communication’ these being:

  • Enjoying being with another person
  • Developing the ability to attend to that person
  • Concentration and attention span
  • Learning to do sequences of activity with another person
  • Taking turns in exchanges of behaviour
  • Sharing personal space
  • Using and understanding eye contact
  • Using and understanding facial expressions
  • Using and understanding physical contacts
  • Using and understanding other non-verbal communications

How can it benefit your child?

  • Intensive interaction sees the child as an individual - important for their selfesteem.
  • It can help to strengthen the relationship that you have with your child.
  • It may help your child feel more relaxed and secure. This may have a positive effect on their behaviour
  • It may help children who feel isolated, anxious and who may head bang or rock to blank out confusion. Intensive interaction can help them to develop early communication skills.

Getting started

  • Seek out opportunities throughout your daily routine to talk and interact with your child. You can do this while bathing, cooking, going to nursery or sitting down during eating times
  • Let your child take the lead. Try to respond to some of the things they are doing in terms of sounds, facial expressions or body movements in a fun way. You may choose to echo their sounds or mirror their posture. You could join in their game of finger tapping, spinning on the spot.
  • Look for any reaction. Their face may change. They may stop what they are doing to watch or listen. This will tell you if they are interested and enjoying what you are doing.
  • Your response may encourage further communication. Your child may want you to react differently or want you to repeat what you are doing many times.
  • If you feel they are not enjoying what you are doing, stop and alter your approach. You could try something different, or take a break and approach them again later.
  • As you start to notice changes in the way your child communicates, however small, vary your response. You could react in a small way, such as varying the rhythm of your tapping in response to their tapping. Your child may enjoy an overly dramatic reaction or a more gentle approach.


Intensive interaction aims to build on your child’s current communication skills and play, during the course of any day. Remember you are the best form of stimulation that your child can have in terms of your ability to be sensitive, responsive and adaptable to your child’s needs.

  • Do what comes naturally
  • You are the expert
  • Relax and embrace the possibilities that intensive interaction can bring.
  • Have fun. Intensive interaction sessions should be enjoyable and often playful

Useful resources/play ideas

  • Light up objects – balls, flashing animals, hand held lights, torches, electronic sound/light up toys
  • Squeezy/stretchy objects
  • Textured and smooth balls
  • Spinners
  • Feely boxes (pasta/rice/figures/letters/numbers)
  • Painting and drawing materials
  • Musical instruments (rain makers, chime bars, triangles, drums)
  • Sponges, loafers, brushes, mini massager
  • Foil blanket
  • Mirrors, reflecting materials
  • Soft materials – cotton wool, fabrics, feathers, pipe cleaners, scarfs (supervision required for children who mouth items)
  • Bubbles
  • Water play

Useful links