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Intensive interaction

What is intensive interaction?

Intensive interaction is an approach designed to help people at the early stages of communication development. It was developed by the Intensive Interaction Institute.

Intensive interaction is a fun and enjoyable way of developing your child’s communication. It is used by a wide range of professionals, support staff and families.

What does intensive interaction do?

Intensive interaction works on developing fundamental early interaction and communication skills including:

  • enjoying being with another person
  • sharing personal space
  • developing attention span
  • learning to do sequences of activity with another person
  • taking turns in conversation
  • understanding and using physical contact
  • understanding and using eye contact and facial expression
  • understanding and using non-verbal communication like gestures
  • using vocalisations with meaning

Principles of intensive interaction


Copy what your child does by repeating vocalisations, physical behaviour or actions, and respond in a way that is meaningful, recognisable and enjoyable for your child.

Joint focus and joint action

Look at and explore objects in the environment together. Do things together or at the same time. Examples include:

  • exploring fabrics, photos, toys
  • passing objects or toys back and forth
  • looking in the mirror together
  • listening to sounds and playing with instruments
  • making noises together
  • playing with a ball
  • watching bubbles
  • singing action songs

Eye contact and exchanging facial expressions

You can do this by playing games like peek-a-boo, pulling faces, or looking in the mirror together. You could demonstrate or copy facial expressions like smiles, tongue movements, yawns or sneezes.

Building anticipation

Start an activity then leave space for your child to anticipate and react. For example, say “ready, steady… go!” with a long pause in between steady and go for your child to make a physical movement, eye contact or vocalisation.

Ideas for anticipation building games include:

  • bubbles
  • tickling
  • chasing
  • putting cars down a ramp
  • throwing your child in the air or helping them to jump
  • peekaboo (by leaving a big gap: “peekaaaa… boo!”)

Starting to use intensive interaction

Watch, wait and tune in to what your child is doing. See what they’re interested in and try to enter their world in terms of physical position and how they’re thinking.

  • follow your child’s lead
  • let them show you what to do
  • don’t do too much
  • let your child’s play, movements and vocalisations guide you
  • respond to what they’re doing using body posture, imitation and joining in
  • make your voice, face and body language look exciting and interested in what they are doing

Props and toys

You don’t necessarily need lots of props for intensive interaction as you can use expressions, vocalisations and body movements. However, some equipment that might be useful includes:

  • scarves
  • musical instruments
  • balls and ball runs
  • bubbles
  • mirrors
  • balloons
  • cause and effect toys
  • sensory materials like feathers or brushes
  • wind-up toys
  • slinkies

It’s really important to follow your child’s lead, so use objects they’re interested in.


Sometimes children do not want to share their toys. In this case, try to have matching objects instead of you taking your child’s toy to copy them. For example, try both holding matching cars, pompoms or shakers.

Copy unusual behaviours or noises. Your child might do some unusual behaviours or make unusual noises, and you might feel a bit strange copying them. However, it is important to try to copy all of these unless they are unsafe or inappropriate behaviours like running away in a dangerous place, mouthing unsafe toys or drawing on the walls.

Finishing a session

Pause and stop. It’s really useful to pause sometimes while you wait and see what your child does next, and don’t forget to stop when they’ve had enough.

Even if it’s only been a very short interaction, short and enjoyable play together is much more beneficial than a longer interaction that leaves everyone feeling frustrated.


The main principles of intensive interaction are that you hold back and wait for your child to lead the interaction. Stay relaxed and respond to what your child does, following their lead.

There are lots of different ways of responding, including imitation (copying), joining in, and building anticipation.

Try to spend a little bit of time every day or a few times a week where you avoid other distractions and really focus on using intensive interaction principles in response to what you see your child doing.

Additional resources and information

For more information about intensive interaction please visit the Intensive Interaction Institute website and YouTube channel.

This video from the Intensive Interaction Institute explains how to do intensive interaction and talks about the principles of the approach.

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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