Spot the anxiety and stress you’re missing.
Implementing a trauma-informed approach across the spectrum of care can be challenging. Even once you’re aware of the prevalence of trauma amongst the people you support, it can take time to adapt your approach to care accordingly.
Recognizing the signs and signals of trauma is something you likely already do, whether by studying someone’s history or being attuned to their body language. However, relying on body language alone can be limiting.
Many people go into a trauma response when they are triggered by environmental or social factors such as a loud noise, a specific venue, or a face in a crowd. Of all the responses to trauma, the fight and flight responses are typically a little easier to spot. For example, verbal and physical aggression or elopement are hard to miss. However, the fawn and freeze responses can be incredibly difficult to identify, especially in the early stages.
Freeze is akin to an “off switch”. If you are in freeze mode, you’ll likely find it difficult to respond to the situation at hand. You’ll stay silent, you won’t move. Freeze responses are especially common with people who have complex trauma and PTSD.
Fawning is a more recently identified response getting attention from researchers and practitioners. Fawning is quite subversive and noticing it from the outside, especially in someone you don’t know very well is extremely challenging. This coping strategy is typically learned by children with non-nurturing or abusive caregivers.
“To avoid conflict, negative emotions, and re-traumatization, people who “fawn”, when triggered, will go out of their way to mirror someone’s opinions and appease them in order to de-escalate situations or potential issues.” - Sam Finch, 2019
As someone providing support, noticing that someone is pushing their own needs aside can be almost impossible to spot. The prevalence of trauma in the IDD community is significant and can not be ignored but addressing it can be challenging when we can’t see it happening. Both the freeze and fawn trauma responses are submissive. They are designed to be disguised and go unnoticed. These coping strategies exist for exactly that reason. They are designed to deal with threats by blending in. No sudden movements, no resistance. Blending in and hoping for the best.
What All Trauma Responses Have in Common
Something that all trauma responses have in common is their physiology. Inside, our body is responding to a threat. Our heart rate increases, our breathing goes shallow, speeds up, and our muscles tense. Our bodies are activated and on alert.
This is where support workers and caregivers typically wish they were mind readers. Wouldn’t it be helpful if you could notice the trauma response while it is still below the surface? This would have a huge impact. Spending long periods of time in the ‘activated’ state is draining. If you aren’t able to notice it in those you support, it can often show up later as fatigue and irritability. In the long term, there are much harsher health outcomes associated with chronic stress.
How Wearables Can Help
Apple watches and Fitbit's have been around for a while, but many of us just assume they are overpriced pedometers. Thankfully, that’s not all they can do. Wearables have the ability to measure our heart rate, and with some help from software, smartwatches can be used to detect stress and strong emotions in real-time.
Effectively, wearables can act as a sort of “mind reader” and help give your team superpowers. They can help identify triggers in the moment and be used as a tool to practice self-regulation. Of course, even with wearable technology, your team will need to rely on their training and best practices. Technology is not a silver bullet; rather, it provides new opportunities to learn and grow.
A Closer Look At The Awake Labs Technology
Being able to recognize stress and strong emotions in the moment can help provide better support for people with IDD. It can help support workers and care managers intervene in the early stages of stress and prevent escalation, chronic nervous system activation, and long-term stress. This is exactly why we developed our technology.
You can learn more about the Awake Labs technology by downloading this Product Guide.