Understanding Challenging Behaviour: Part 1: Summary

Understanding Challenging Behaviour is the first information sheet in this series. It is recommended that it is read alongside ‘‘Finding the Causes of Challenging Behaviour: Part 2’’ and “Positive Behaviour Support Planning: Part 3’'

What is it?

The term “challenging behaviour” has been used to refer to the “difficult” or “problem” behaviours which may be shown by children or adults with a learning disability including:

  • Aggression (e.g. hitting)
  • Self injury (e.g. head banging)
  • Destruction (e.g. throwing objects)
  • Other behaviours (e.g. running away)

Challenging behaviour can put the safety of the person or others at risk or have a significant effect on the person’s every day life.

Why does it happen?

Most children without learning disabilities display lots of challenging behaviour during the “terrible twos,” but usually this doesn’t last because most 2-year olds develop a range of communication and social skills which enable them to get what they want and need more easily. Many children with learning disabilities do not develop these skills and are left with the same needs as other children their age but are much less able to get them met.

Many cases of challenging behaviour appear to be effective ways for a person with learning disability to control what is going on around them.

What can be done?

There is no magic cure for challenging behaviour but there is a great deal that can be done to prevent or reduce the frequency of challenging behaviour.

Medical causes need to be ruled out, for example, the person may be banging their head due to an ear infection but have no way to communicate this.

  • Try to check things out for yourself. If you change something does that stop the behaviour? Can you teach the child to tell you what they want in another way?
  • When safe to do so ignore the behaviour. If it’s not safe respond as calmly and blandly as possible to prevent the person from hurting themself further.
  • Develop the person’s communication skills and give them choice and independence.
  • If the person is displaying serious challenging behaviour ask for a “functional assessment” to try and understand the reasons behind the behaviour. You can ask your GP or social worker for a referral.
  • Challenging behaviour can be an emotional experience for parents - you may feel very angry with the child or very depressed about their behaviour. Don’t be ashamed of this! Instead, talk about it with anyone who will listen and understand.

To download the full version of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation information sheet “Understanding Challenging Behaviour”, by Peter McGill, Co-Director, The Tizard Centre, University of Kent at Canterbury click here.                               




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