Occupational Therapist, Sibling, Speaker

Behavior is Always a Form of Communication

Woman holding hand up to man

I have not posted anything in the past two weeks. I had a family emergency. Trying to think of what to write has been difficult. This is the first thing that popped into my head this morning. I know in the past, I was the queen of pushing people away when things got difficult. I would shut down and not want to talk about what ever the issue was. I would avoid conflict and just walk away. My good friends see right through this and have stuck around for the long hall. The special needs sibling piece does fall under this as well. Some of us (not all), did quite a bit of acting out to get our needs met and it can carry into adulthood. Just because we didn’t have any kind of diagnosed disability, does not mean that we understood the use of emotional language and just using our words.

I think of people without a voice. (Please see the post about working with individuals that have limited language). When people who don’t have words are upset, it comes out in behaviors. But most of us that have fully formed language do the same thing but we hold them people with disabilities to a higher standard. They feel stress the same way. Have you ever lashed out at someone or something when something bad happens? Does your body give you signals when you are too stressed? For example, last year my brother was stuck in his group home for Christmas. He is used to getting picked up for the day. He ended up in the ER with tachycardia. Well if that was not a scream for help and high stress, not sure what is. He was also dehydrated. Think of all these individuals stuck in group homes during COVID. Think behaviors have sky rocketed? I really feel for the direct care staff.

I think the key is just to be mindful of your responses. I never knew that what I did to cope with stress was not functional until more recent years. Acting out, over eating, drinking, pushing people away are all maladaptive behaviors. In my world, this was just normal. My brother is no different. When we moved him from his institution setting he had lived in for almost 30 years, he over ate, raided the cabinets, and didn’t sleep as well. Another example is those that have dementia. Most go through some kind of angry phase. Rightfully so. They could talk and comprehend language one minute and gone the next. Once you can see what you do, it helps you see what others maybe going through even if they can not tell you. When I take on students, I often forget they may have never interacted with an individual that has limited language. (Once the video goes live for Global Yoga Therapy Day, it will be posted here). I would challenge college programs to have their students walk around for a day and not be able to use verbal language including smart phones.

Think of a stressful situation in your life. What was your response? In fight/flight/freeze- what did you do? We lose are ability to use language when this is activated. Are you still responding the same way? What can you do differently next time?

I can tell you with a quick scroll on social media people are not handling the current political race in the US well at all. I am not writing a political debate. What I will say is just observing others behaviors, it has been interesting. What is the underlying anger or fear? What was the trigger to irrational behaviors? Behavior is always a form of communication. What are you trying to say?

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