Intensive Interaction Therapy (IIT) is an approach to teaching the basics of communication to children or adults with severe learning disabilities.

It also builds positive relationships increasing people’s self-worth and overall quality of life. IIT is not a behavioural technique used by therapist to stop unwanted behaviours, as this has been seen to be ineffective for people with severe learning disabilities; instead it is seen as a person centred speech and language intervention used to develop sociability and communication in individuals who are difficult to reach.

Evidence suggests that the technique is effective for people who have autism and have no form of intentional communication. These people may engage in self-stimulatory behaviours e.g. rocking, continuous vocalisation, flicking or swirling. They can be describes as being locked into their own world, struggling to interact with people around them. They may be experiencing anxiety, frustration and have a lack of control. They may feel isolated even if they are surrounded by people as it is likely that the communication used around them will be pitched too high, creating meaningless interactions.

IIT is based on the instinctual relationship between a mother and her baby from birth, known as the care-infant interaction model. Due to their learning disability individuals can miss out on this important developmental phase. Consequently they do not learn that their behaviour can influence other people’s actions, which is the foundation for successful communication. IIT aims to draw the person’s attention from their ‘inner world’ to the world outside and can also;

  • develop basic social and communication skills
  • reduce stress and negative behaviours
  • develop an individual’s feelings of worth
  • encourage positive interactions

The process of IIT can be very difficult to administer effectively. II will usually be implemented by a speech and language therapist (SLT), however, an SLT can also go to settings and train carers so they are able to implement it regularly with the people in their care. During IIT a therapist will;

  • Observe behaviours; their vocalisations and movements
  • Copy back some of these behaviours
  • Wait! Always briefly pause and wait for a reaction
  • Listen and give your undivided attention.

The aim will be to gradually extend these interactions to increase skills and levels of sociability through joint attention and turn taking.

Without IIT people with no form of communication may not be able to form relationships, learn appropriate behaviours and could become extremely isolated. People with severe learning disabilities deserve to be shown that they are part of society and should be given opportunities to learn to communicate. Despite being difficult to administer, IIT is an ideal intervention that can give people with severe learning disabilities a voice that nobody thought that they had.

IIT is a very specialist speech and language therapy intervention. If you feel that it could be beneficial to somebody that you know, or you work at a institution that you feel would benefit from training in IIT, you can contact Integrated Treatment Services on: 0845 838 2921 or simply email One of our experienced therapist will discuss what intervention would be best for you or simply offer any support we can with no obligation to use our service.

If you have found this article helpful and have more questions then you can contact us with ideas for topics you would like us to cover in future blogs.

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