Internationally speaking (a guest post about non verbal communication)

Dawn Brown

Dawn Brown

Dawn is a teacher at an all age special school in Hertfordshire. She is the autism lead and Intensive Interaction co-ordinator. She is also an accreditation assessor for the National Autistic Society and a trainer in communication, sensory integration, SLD, autism and more… Dawn has kindly written this blog for us about her experiences of non-verbal communication, and how it can be a beautiful thing.

Internationally speaking

I love world travel. It brings me immense pleasure! One of the reasons I find it so enjoyable is the encounters I have with people who don’t speak the same language as me. In my last overseas adventure, I climbed to the top of a mountain ridge (ok so the bus took me within 200ft, but the last bit was a vertical climb!) and met a young girl – Rebecca. She spoke Quechua, some Spanish and 3 words of English (which happened to be 1,2,3). I speak English and a smattering of Spanish, but no Quechua… so did we talk, oh yes, for about an hour. About what? Animals mostly! Because we could mime characteristics and share the laughter when I tried to guess what she meant… She told me all about her family, her 4 brothers and sisters (I understood because she said her name and 4 other names and pointed at the house we could see at the bottom of the ridge – and she said ‘Mama’ once or twice). She became very animated when we spoke about the condor I wanted to see, but mostly when she tried to find my husband for me, pointing him out as a dot halfway down the ridge – we did agree he was ‘poco loco’!


Our shared language was the smiles and frowns, gestures and laughter of a conversation with fewer words than there were sheep on the ridge, so how did our conversation last an hour? Easy – we tuned in to each other, we joined the other where they were and listened intently, and if we didn’t understand, we gave each other time to rethink meaning and try again. We were in the zone – together. We smiled and waited for our partner to try again. We made ourselves available, accepted every attempt we made and didn’t drive our partner on but most of all – we enjoyed being ‘together’ in a shared moment.


I have the pleasure of working with children – very special children. It brings me immense pleasure! One of the reasons I find it so pleasurable is that I get to spend time with people who don’t speak the same language as me. Sometimes no language at all (so I am told). I spend my days having the very best encounters – encounters that last seconds, minutes, sometimes for bursts that are on and off for the day. I smile a lot. I talk about a whole range of subjects, from how balls roll, to what colour the world is, from how special the bit of fluff on the carpet feels, to what words sound like ‘toilet’. Sometimes I talk about these things without words (well English words anyway) and sometimes I have whole conversations that consist of one word. How do I do it? Well, mostly ‘I’ don’t. There has to be a ‘we’ for it to work. And my partners are getting used to the ‘we’ that we form when I join them in activities that they are doing alone.


I have the pleasure of working with adults – very special adults. It brings me immense pleasure! I am mentoring a group of apprentices. I asked last week if they knew what I might suggest for a young lady who has been finding ‘play’ difficult (it has mostly consisted of throwing toys at her peers). One replied – ‘Intensive Interaction’. So we chatted about what that might look like, and how that might affect the play. We managed to manufacture a safer environment for the play to take place and the girl chose a box of balls play with. My mentee asked me questions and hesitated. We talked quietly and we joined the girl in rolling a ball on a shelf above a radiator. We waited. We watched. Slowly the shared language appeared – a glance, a smile, recognition of the importance of her game, that her game was how she could lead play, that she could enjoy the game and that someone felt that her game was enjoyable too. The encounter lasted 17 minutes. 17 minutes of unadulterated pleasure from both parties engaged in it. Video was taken and we will look back over it and reflect on what happened. But for now – the shared language was the smiles and frowns, gestures and laughter of a conversation with fewer words than there were people in the room.

Intensive Interaction.

@ii_intensive @iiaction_LYPFT


If you are interested in finding SEND jobs supporting children with limited verbal ability in a primary, secondary or alternative education setting, why not get in touch with Axcis or register with us to seek work today?


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