Tis’ the season to… issue trigger warnings around shopping centres

In the area of profound intellectual and multiple disabilities we often talk about sensory focused practice: approaching people being mindful of their sensory preferences and challenges.

Today, I opt for a no-sense day. No, not a nonsense day, a no-sense day.

You see, yesterday my sensory system got flooded.

KMart should have warning signs: warning music will be louder (actually or just felt), your visual system will be bombarded with restocking of all the christmas crap, your proprioceptive and vestibular system will be shocked as you don’t know how to dodge the staff unstocking all the stuff with their boxes (and your won’t know how to find that copy of Bad Guys 5 because your memory will go into shut down), even your sense of smell is going to be attacked as the dial for everything is turned up.

You will go home, take migraine tablets and painkillers because your neurological system will cross all of the wires.

So today, I choose no-sense. All sounds will be barely audible, curtains will be drawn, smells will be nuetral or safely chosen, movements calculated and minimised, brain switched to slow, low, no…

I am thankful that I can choose and shape my no-sense day.

I understand why people hit out, bite, scratch, scream, bang their heads – desperate attempts to either control their systems or the explosions that come when control can not be gained. To hit, to scream, to run, to panic when the flood is uncontrollable.

Wishing everyone either the ability to regulate themsevlves or to be surrounded by insightful, empathic, educated, ambassodors to do the regulation when a person can not do it themselves. A hand to hold when the world is fragmenting; a guide rope to return to safety.

Intensive Interaction and those who appear to avoid engagement

Sometimes I long to return to the UK where, while they are struggling with many of the same issues as we do in Australia, there are a greater number of communities of practice, professional development, policy engagement focusing on people with severe and profound levels of intellectual disability (or learning disability as known there).

Here is one of the great upcoming opportunities that I’ve cut and paste from my inbox:

Dear Intensive Interaction practitioners and advocates,

This is a reminder about the 2019 Intensive Interaction Weekend Workshop: ‘Using Intensive Interaction with people who exhibit demand avoidance’ from Friday 18th – Sunday 20th October, at Hill Top Farm Barn, Malham, North Yorkshire. We still have a few final places left to fill. This inexpensive (just £95!) development event focuses on using Intensive Interaction with people who, to some degree, actively or passively avoid engagements with others (but don’t necessarily have a diagnosis of PDA!). Over the weekend we will look to address the following three issues:

  1. Why might demand avoidance occur for some of our learners or service users?  
  2. 2. How might demand avoidance be presented?
  3. How might  Intensive Interaction help us work with people who present with some level of demand avoidance?

I have attached an application form for this event above, but if you would like more information please don’t hesitate to contact me at: graham.firth@nhs.net or by phone at 0113 8555162.

HOP workshops…

It’s been nearly two years since my injury that has taken me away from the work that I love.

But I’m pleased to say now that I will be running a HOP workshop on the 24th May 2019 in Eltham, Victoria.

If this goes well, I’d love to run more workshops.

HOP workshops are great opportunities to talk about how to interact with people with profound intellectual and multiple disabilities, and discuss the taboos and issues that might get in the way of having quality interactions with people who don’t use or seem to understand speech.

Link to HOP workshop


“How adults with a profound intellectual disability engage others in interaction” – a powerful, provocative article

Just wanting to share my favourite reading at the moment. The article is simultaneously complex and straightforward. They use a complex method of conversational analysis to look at natural interactions occurring between some staff and people with profound intellectual disabilities. Their findings are straightforward: staff are in a dilemma. They are use “typical” communication patterns with people whose communication needs are far from typical. Successful interaction is not happening.

It is a wonderful challenge handed to us to explore, use, and share a different way of communicating. It is a challenge to anyone who “trains”, “teachers”, “mentors” staff who engage everyday with people with profound intellectual disability to learn the optimal individual language that may defy neurotypical rules. It challenges us to change the rules of engagement.


Antaki, C. , Crompton, R. J., Walton, C. and Finlay, W. (2017), How adults with a profound intellectual disability engage others in interaction. Sociol Health Illn, 39: 581-598. doi:10.1111/1467-9566.12500


Using video records of everyday life in a residential home, we report on what interactional practices are used by people with severe and profound intellectual disabilities to initiate encounters. There were very few initiations, and all presented difficulties to the interlocutor (support staff; the recording researcher); one (which we call ‘blank recipiency’) gave the interlocutor virtually no information at all on which to base a response. Only when the initiation was of a new phase in an interaction already under way (for example, the initiation of an alternative trajectory of a proposed physical move) was it likely to be successfully sustained. We show how interlocutors responded to initiations verbally, as if to neuro?typical speakers – but inappropriately for people unable to comprehend, or to produce well?fitted next turns. This mis?reliance on ordinary speakers’ conversational practices was one factor that contributed to residents abandoning the interaction in almost all cases. We discuss the dilemma confronting care workers.