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The very basic form of communication is the giving and receiving of a message. Some messages are received loud and clear, others take some deciphering. Individuals who work with clients who are non-verbal or have limited verbal skills know the challenge of accurately interpreting messages.

All behavior is an attempt to communicate, understanding the message is often the key to deescalating a potential crisis. One of the best predictors of an individual accurately receiving a non-verbal message is the level of knowledge and relationship with the sender of the message.

There are many non-verbal cues that can indicate a person is in distress. For example, my grandson “cleans” his closet when his routine is changed in order to re-establish control over his environment. His emptying his closet was often a battle ground, until we were able to understand the reason for his behavior.

Other individuals may rock back and forth, make noises, or even stare blankly; the bottom line non-verbal cues are personal and specific to the individual. I have seen staff react to various non-verbal cues that served only to compound the crisis not elevate, because they simply misunderstood message.

It is virtually impossible for me to provide a list of non-verbal cues and behaviors with a definition of what each one means and the proper staff reaction. The best advice I can provide is to build positive relationships with clients, learn each person’s special language, and constantly refine your R.A.D.A.R to improve your accuracy of interpreting messages.

Randel Goad – Mandt Faculty

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