Phoebe Caldwell, Elspeth Bradley, Janet Gurney, Jennifer Heath, Hope Lightowler, Kate Richardson and Jemma Swales

Responsive Communication


Combining attention to sensory issues with using body language (intensive interaction) to interact with autistic adults and children



Responsive Communication is a groundbreaking book which has been put together by a team of authors led by Phoebe Caldwell, who during her long-time practice in this field has found some unique paths to achieving deep and meaningful engagement with autistic people and people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. The book explains how to communicate with children and adults who are struggling to understand and articulate speech using Responsive Communication. Responsive Communication combines Intensive Interaction (using people’s body language to communicate) with attention to sensory issues, to encourage effective emotional engagement and reduce behavioural distress.

The authors offer a range of fascinating and informative perspectives on the approach and application of responsive communication, from backgrounds including expert by experience, communication, service management, occupational therapy, neuroscience and psychiatry. What this range of contributors has in common is a sense that before we can address communication, we need to attend to the sensory features of autism and reduce the information processing distress that may be hindering our ability to get in touch with our autistic partners.

Other titles by this author


Responsive Communication will benefit support staff, professionals and family members supporting autistic adults and children and people with profound and multiple learning disabilities.


Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins
Chapter 1: Attention to sensory issues: hyper- and hypo-sensitivities
Phoebe Caldwell
Chapter 2: Unrecognised autism
Hope Lightowler
Chapter 3: Us in a Bus and Intensive Interaction Janet Gurney
Chapter 4: Addressing sensory issues and body language with autistic people: Responsive Communication from an occupational therapy perspective
Jennifer Heath
Chapter 5: Autism support in Cumbria: understanding behaviour and supporting change
Jemma Swales
Chapter 6: A one year Responsive Communication pilot project in Carmarthenshire
Kate Richardson
Chapter: 7: A psychiatrist’s perspective on Responsive Communication
Dr Elspeth Bradley

ISBN: 9781912755363

Publication date: July 2019


Phoebe Caldwell DSc
For over thirty years, Phoebe Caldwell DSc has pioneered the development of communication support for individuals on the autistic spectrum, opening up channels of communication and emotional engagement for thousands of individuals across the UK whose previous experience had been social and emotional isolation.

Phoebe’s way of working is distinctive in that it is rooted in respect for the identity of the individual as they are. The Caldwell Foundation uses the term Responsive Communication to describe Phoebe’s approach to communication support.

At the heart of Phoebe’s work is her one-to-one work with individuals on the autistic spectrum who find communication difficult. When Phoebe provides this one-to-one support, family and care-givers are there observing so that they can learn the approach and use it themselves with the individual. In this way, Responsive Communication is used as a continuous communication tool so that the individual always has a meaningful point of reference.

Phoebe is employed by the NHS and local authorities to work with difficult-to-provide-for individuals. As part of this, she trains professionals, therapists, managers, practitioners, parents and carer-givers.

Elspeth Bradley PhD, FRCPC, FRCPsych
Elspeth Bradley, researcher, psychiatrist and psychotherapist, has supported children and adults with intellectual disabilities and autism over the past 35 years in the UK and in Canada.

She has held tenured clinical academic appointments in intellectual disability psychiatry in both countries: in the UK as Senior Lecturer at St Georges Hospital Medical School, NHS Consultant Normansfield, Richmond and Twickenham and Lead Consultant in Intellectual Disabilities, Cornwall Partnership NHS Trust; and in Canada as Psychiatrist-in-Chief and Post Graduate Education Coordinator in Intellectual Disabilities at Surrey Place Centre/Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto.

Janet Gurney                                                                                                                                                                                           

Janet Gurney is Director of Training for ‘Us in a Bus,’ a voluntary organisation that uses social interaction to build relationships  with people with profound learning difficulties and complex needs including autism and challenging/distressed behaviour. Janet has been using Intensive Interaction in this work for over 25 years, and has had the privilege of working alongside Phoebe Caldwell.

Janet uses her experience, perception and sensitivity to establish common ground with people who are often isolated, helping them to have more of a positive voice and an impact on their world. She has a post-graduate certificate in training and is skilled at adapting her training approach to meet the needs of participants.

Jennifer Heath
Jennifer Heath qualified with an MSc in occupational therapy in 2010. She works as an Occupational Therapist at Underley Garden where she is also a manager for the health and therapy team there. Underley Garden is a school and children’s home for children and young people with a range of complex needs, including autism. Underley Garden is based in Kirkby Lonsdale, on the border of Cumbria and Lancashire. Jennifer is also a Sensory Integration Practitioner, currently in training to the advanced level.

Hope Lightowler
Hope is 20 years old and was 17 when she was sectioned. Hope shares her account of the difficult and traumatic process of being discharged. A couple of months after discharge she was diagnosed with high functioning autism.

Kate Richardson
Kate Richardson is a highly specialist learning disability Speech and Language Therapist. She works part-time in the NHS supporting adults with a learning disability and has co-authored several teaching and learning publications on communication and learning disabilities. Kate is a founding director of Autism Wellbeing CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise which provides a range of services to the autistic community.

Jemma Swales
After completing a degree in psychology, Jemma worked at a day centre for autistic adults with learning disabilities in London. She now works as a self-employed autism practitioner and is one of the directors of Autus Cumbria Ltd, a small not-for-profit organisation. Her work includes offering long term support for autistic people and their families, running activity sessions for young people and delivering a range of training. Much of her experience involves supporting people with complex behavioural needs and finding and implementing practical ways forward.


1 review for Responsive Communication

  1. Lyra Burton

    “Phoebe Caldwell has found some unique paths to achieving deep and meaningful engagement with autistic people and people with profound and multiple learning disabilities. Families and carers are in awe of the deep and intuitive connections she is able to make, adapting her way of being with and responding to each person. 
    Through her practice of Intensive Interaction over several decades, Phoebe has illuminated the way in which sensory issues can impede communication and emotional engagement of autistic individuals with others. She has shown how both hypo- and hyper-sensitivities can contribute to a scrambled sensory input, and how subsequent anxiety results in either hyperarousal (sometimes seen as ‘meltdowns’) or hypo-arousal (sometimes seen as ‘shutdowns’). These sensory issues are often unrecognised by professionals, families and other observers, as they are not routinely part of the experience of those who do not have autism. When sensory triggers are not anticipated or recognised, distress may manifest as behaviours that challenge. The authors of this book share their different perspectives, while also all being practitioners of Responsive Communication.”

    Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins

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