You have heard the old saying “actions speak louder than words.” This is true in so many ways. Bottom line… behavior is a form of a communication. This is true for all teens, not just teens affected by disability. Any good Youth Leader will pay special attention to a teen that is acting out. There is almost always a deeper reason behind it. It is the role of the Youth Leader to be a detective at times. What is the behavior communicating?
Sometimes the answer is easy and other times it is more complex. For example, Susie comes into the student ministry already on edge. No one wants to get close to her because she is kicking everyone and everything nearby. Susie is nonverbal. What do you do? The answer could be as simple as the fact that her parents made her wear nicer, dress up, shoes to church and Susie is only comfortable wearing Crocs. Compromising and helping Susie take off her shoes might be the simple answer for the morning. Other times the answer isn’t as simple.
For example, Darlene came to student ministry programming for the first time this Sunday. Darlene did her best to participate in all the elements of programming and seemed to enjoy herself. She seemed to gravitate to the female youth leaders all night. Darlene isn’t nonverbal, but she chooses not to speak. As everyone is dismissing Darlene ends up being the last one there because her guardian is sticking around to meet the Pastor after service. Two youth leaders are waiting with Darlene, but one of them ends needing to leave. Darlene then seemingly out of nowhere violently attacks the lone youth leader. What happened? Sometimes it isn’t simple. What happened in this situation is the youth leaders didn’t have all the information they needed. If they did they would have known that Darlene could never be left alone with a male. Darlene had been a victim of abuse by a man. Her sudden violent behavior was not driven out of anger but rather PTSD and self-protection. Being alone with a man was a trigger that could have been avoided.
Behaviors large and small are forms of communication. Always be on the lookout for what teens affected by disability may be communicating to you through their behaviors. Remember that you are not alone. Always work with the parents or guardians. Keep communication lines open. The last thing that they want is for you to do is to say everything was fine if it wasn’t. Make time for communication during drop off and pick up times. You may learn important information that will give you insight into behaviors that you may see from week to week.