Are you familiar with the phrase “All behavior is communication”?
When someone is “acting out” or exhibiting “behaviors,” we must look for the meaning of the actions. Look for what the person is trying to communicate. Oftentimes, a person with limited verbal skills or other communication difficulties asks for help or exhibits displeasure by hitting, kicking, screaming, or crying.
As advocates for persons with a disability, it is important to respond to the intended meaning rather than punishing or trying to eliminate those unwanted behaviors. Not only do these “behaviors” act as a means of communication, but often the individual is acting out of a place of trauma. And until that trauma is recognized and addressed, those “behaviors” will continue to be the person’s response.
This approach to helping people is called Trauma Informed Care. This methodology asks a caregiver or parent to examine the situation—the triggers and the behavior—and investigate if this response could be caused by a past trauma. It involves looking deeper than the behavior. It involves looking at the person and deciphering if there are scars or fears left from trauma.
The word trauma is used in a broad sense to encompass more than abuse, natural disaster, or a violent traumatic event. It is defined as anything that compromises a person’s feeling of safety. And one person’s idea of trauma may not look like it to another person. But that doesn’t mean that the event wasn’t a significant trauma to that person.
Trauma can include the loss and rejection of adoption. Many people with health care needs endure the medical trauma of needles, pain, fear, illness, etc. Siblings and family members may experience trauma from the fear of losing an ill loved one. The trauma may be from getting lost momentarily at the mall or even thinking that you are lost. It may be from bullying. There is no limit to what a person may consider trauma.
Trauma Informed Care teaches that a person’s “behaviors” in response to their trauma are valid. And the pain from that trauma needs attention and care.
Trauma care requires different tools than if we were trying to fix a behavior only problem.
It’s a shift in thinking. Responding to a person as though they have experienced trauma requires a mindset that is kind. It requires listening to the injured. It requires helping heal the hurts. Caregivers need to respect the wounds and memories of the person in order to make progress.
You can find more information on trauma-informed care on this website.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we asked parents of children with disabilities and special health care needs to share their tips and stories about caring for their children during difficult times.