Being listened to by someone who really seems to want to hear what I want to say makes me feel good. I feel recognised, valued, respected, included and cared for. Apart from the sense that what I am saying is heard and understood, it helps me explore connections with others and learn more about myself. In fact, being listened to is pretty important to my sense of self.
But what if a profound or complex learning disability prevented me from knowing that anyone was listening, or made it hard for others to listen to me? I would need the people around me to become very aware of their listening skills and how to adapt them to let me know I am being heard, recognised, valued and respected in the way that most of us take for granted.
This guidance shows you how to use Intensive Interaction to re-frame shared time for mutually pleasurable and appropriately focused engagement that is not task focused and recognises that it is us who need to adjust to create more fulfilling interactions.
What you need
- A desire to get to know and be with your person on their terms.
- Acceptance that everybody can be actively listened to if we are observant and give ourselves time.
- A suitable space. Somewhere your person you are spending time with is comfortable.
- Time and opportunity – none of us live/work in perfect situations and time and opportunity can seem in short supply, so it is worth getting into the habit of grabbing time and opportunity to listen whenever those moments, however brief, present themselves.
- Whenever you have the chance, give your person the opportunity to know they are being noticed and responded to, in their ‘language’ rather than yours; this is listening!
Guidance and instructions
- Watch and listen; what is your person doing? Are they rocking, rubbing their fingers on the chair, humming, flapping their hands, for example? They may not be at the stage of communicating intentionally and may be doing things to provide themselves with self-affirmation and/or sensory feedback.
- Imagine how it might feel to be doing what your person is doing – try it out yourself; what is the sensory feedback you are experiencing from that action? Are you feeling a rhythm, exploring a texture, hearing/feeling your own sounds, sensing a breeze? Also be aware that your person may process the sensory world in a way that is different to the way you do.
- To foster their interest in the social and communicative world, they first need to know that you are noticing and responding to the way they connect with themselves and with the world.
- Think creatively about how you can reflect that sensory feedback back to your person in a way that is acceptable, interesting, accessible and motivating. You could reflect the rhythm of rocking by repeating their name, become part of the texture they are exploring by placing the back of your hand next to it, echo the vibration of their humming by tapping gently on to their back, use a fan to create a breeze to mirror their flapping.
- Don’t expect anything of your person. Try not to second guess or attempt to influence what might happen. Expect of yourself that you will create a connection by following their lead.
- As you do this, be prepared to leave spaces, change your actions or your position to be more conducive to a positive interaction.
- Keep noticing what they are doing – when they change or stop an action, they need to know you are responding accordingly.
- Stay aware of being the follower not the leader – you are ‘listening’, not ‘telling’.
- Be comfortable with repetition – try to relax enough to be comfortable having the same conversation again and again. It may take one, several or many repetitions for trust to build and for both of you to completely relax into the interaction.
- Stop as soon as you notice they have had enough or show that they do not like what you are doing; they need to know they are in the lead and that they can end it when they want or need to.
- Remain attentive and available to any indication your person wants to re-engage. For instance, did they flick their eyes your way? Did the intonation or volume of their sound alter? Did their foot twitch?
What to observe, assess and record
- Observe and record what your person does. Focus on ‘inner world’ sounds/ movements. You do not need to know what or if it means anything communicative. Recognise the connection that’s created as the starting point for a deeper and more equal relationship that is based on celebrating the nuances and characteristics someone has that may have been overlooked or considered ‘just what someone does’ rather than opportunities to connect.
- Observe and record what your person does when you respond by joining them and doing what they are doing.
- Observe body language, facial expression and how they alter as the interaction progresses.
Listening is about what we are offering them so we need to observe, assess and record ourselves, not them. So also ask yourself…
- How often are you attempting to listen to your person?
- Are you doing it in a way that lets them know that you are really noticing the way they are confirming their own existence and that you are offering them an echo of that confirmation?
- Are you leaving long enough gaps for them to use?
… if so, you are practicing the art of active listening and doing what you can to help someone feel noticed, valued, included and cared for.
© Janet Gurney, email: [email protected] and Anne Laney, email: [email protected]
Website: Us In A Bus
Created December 2020