Seven Misconceptions Organizations Make When Tracking Behavior

Communicating Through Behavior: #5 of Seven Misconceptions Organizations Make When Tracking Behavior

by Torri Wright | January 29th, 2020


As mentioned in previous blog posts, behavior is communication. The essence of this can be captured within the following example:

Sally is a 12-year-old who expresses a high-level of sensory seeking behavior, has notable anxiety related to social situations outside of familiar locations and people, and often recoils, both physically and verbally, when someone new steps within 3 ft or more of her proximity. Her parents have taken her to a variety of professionals, doctors and therapists. The diagnosis Sally currently has is sensory processing disorder with social anxiety and communication disorder. Her parents have struggled to understand what Sally needs, as she is not always able to accurately report. While she has great articulation and vernacular, she struggles with being able to identify her needs or connections to what is influencing her discomfort.

The behaviors, most concerning to her parents are when Sally engages in hitting herself in the head or scratches her arms when she is no longer able to manage her environment. They express not knowing what to do or why. Sally has been observed several times and the hypothesis is that the environmental factors build and eventually result in dysregulation. What was noted is that she can maintain smaller groups, even new environments if she is offered a social story (prepared statement of what is going to happen, who will be there and the schedule). Her self-injury is her communicating, “I have had enough and this is too much.” – if any 12-year-old were to say this to an adult, they would immediately be assisted in whatever way possible. This behavior is concerning as it can pose a heightened risk to Sally, yet we see it as confusing and unsure of how to intervene.

Sally is aware and often increases her self-injury when others are watching her, rather than interacting. When someone goes over and states, “I see you are needing help, can we go to a quieter location?” sally is able to comply, without hesitation. This is defining the interaction of someone who spoke their needs, only it was through behavior. This example could be twice as long, however for the reader here, I wanted to pose a simple thought; if we can make a good guess as to what the behavior is telling us, why not name it to the person, as an observation and let them know you want to help out? This does not mean they will suddenly shift and start talking; rather they are now informed, we see them, we hear them, and we want to help. 

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