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education, research, sensory, special education, special needs, Teaching

Develop Authentic Interaction Styles To Improve Learning

Individual interaction styles can have a huge impact on learning. When working with young people with SEN there are many different strategies and approaches to engage them in learning. What is often overlooked is the adult’s interaction style. This can influence not only engagement but behaviour, wellbeing and, well all outcomes really. I would like you to bear in mind that some pupils have strong associative memories attached to sensory stimuli. So you may be wearing an aftershave/perfume that they link to a negative experience. Subtle things like tie colour, wearing glasses, beards etc can have an impact in how pupils respond to you.

building authentic interaction styles in special education SEN teaching image of teacher with two children completing a joint attention activity

Adapting Interaction Styles to Each Learner

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Every teacher, assistant, site manager, kitchen staff, leader will have a specific way that they interact. The best I have worked with vary this depending on who they are interacting with. From observations I think this adaptation to the individual’s preferences is unconscious. They slip into natural and subtle variations. I have worked with young people who I have had to seek to understand their preferred interaction style. That rapport is so important and getting it wrong can take a long time to undo.

The higher the level of communication difficulties the more attuned you have to be to that young person’s reactions to you. It is easy to make things about us. Interactions are a two way endeavour and we need to consider how are actions are perceived.

Things to consider when determining a child’s preferred Interaction Style

What we want to aim for is our interactions to be as authentic as possible. Young people with SEND are very adept at picking up when you feel uncomfortable. The following list are suggestions of what we need to consider when deciding how best to interact with a young person we work with.

  • Do their tolerance levels change throughout the day?
  • What are their tactile sensitivities?
  • How do other sensory sensitivities impact interactions?
  • How do they initiate interactions?
  • What is the most respectful proximity to use?
  • How do they communicate no/go away?
  • What is this most effective way to gain their attention?
  • How do they process information and at what speed?
  • Never force eye-contact

Developing your Style.

Many school staff, teachers, support staff, leaders will have a natural, unconscious interaction style. However as with anything in special education this style will not be effective for all pupils. If Interactions between yourself and the young people you work with don’t go to plan here are some things to observe. Watch how they respond to different staff and the interaction style used. Do not take it personally look out for these elements of the interaction.

  • Body language – stance, proximity, gestures, leaning forwards or back, facing or sitting beside.
  • Facial expressions – highly animated, emotional or neutral.
  • Voice – tone, volume, speed of speech, number of words used.

As all experienced SEN teachers know many children have auditory processing difficulties and strong auditory sensitivities that will vary throughout the day. Some respond better to soft, slow, quiet voices. Others need exciting voices to encourage them to attend to the activity. This is basis of the very specific attention autism approach. Some pupils can become overwhelmed with this fast-paced, highly animated voice patterns. You will very quickly be able to identify this and modulate your style to make sure everyone in the group is included.

A style comparison

Compare these two videos of the same activity. In this case attention autism. The first video shows Gina Davies who developed this approach. In the second from Gina’s official channel you have a slightly different approach in terms of style to the same activity.

Video 1
Video 2

Have a look at video three – it should start at a specific interaction. I wanted to use to contrasts to the very animated style above. There are so many takeaways and discussion points from this video, including hand-over-hand. It is worth watching all the way through.

Video 3

Video 4 shows another style of interaction. If you have time watch the whole video to see how the member of staff adapts her interaction style according to the activity. In this case you can see the use of an etrans frame for communication. This school is run by Mary Isherwood – creator of #SENexchange. These Nasen videos are all brilliant CPD.

Video 4

Interaction Styles Post Summary

I hope you have enjoyed this post and found some useful takeaways about how to develop your own authentic interaction style that will support learning in your classroom.

  • Interaction is a two way process
  • Children’s tolerances to sensory stimuli vary over time
  • Different activities may require different styles
  • you won’t get it right first time
  • The more you can observe interactions the better you will get

Worthy Read

The Intensive Interaction Classroom Guide: Social Communication Learning and Curriculum for Children with Autism, Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties, or Communication Difficulties This will really focus on the child’s preferred interaction styles and help build deep rapport – https://amzn.to/3qj2FsB

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