What is Challenging Behaviour?

‘Challenging behaviour’ is how we talk about a range of behaviours which some people with severe learning disabilities may display to get needs met. 

Behaviours might be things like:

  • Hurting others (e.g. hair pulling, hitting, head-butting)
  • Self-injury (e.g. head banging, eye poking, hand biting)
  • Destructive behaviours (e.g. throwing things, breaking furniture, tearing things up)
  • Other behaviours (e.g. spitting, smearing, removing clothes in public, running off)

For two of the widely used definitions click here


Why do people display challenging behaviour?

‘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.’

Peter McGill, Tizard Centre, University of Kent

Many challenging behaviours are effective ways for a person with learning disability to control what is going on around them. 

Have a look at our information on Understanding Challenging behaviour to find out more.

How can the Challenging Behaviour Foundation help?


We provide information and support to families and professionals, and we are committed to driving change to ensure that people with severe learning disabilities whose behaviour is described as challenging and their families can live happily and have active lives in their communities with access to healthcare, employment, leisure and education - just like everyone else.

Behaviour described as challenging can have a significant impact, not only on the individual with learning disabilities themselves, but also family and friends caring for that person. We provide support networks to enable families to share experiences with other families who have been in similar circumstances.

We believe that family carers should be supported in their role, and that professionals should view families as experts on their relative and work in partnership with them to ensure that they receive good quality, local support.

We know that there are 30,000 people in the UK with a severe learning disability whose behaviour can challenge. 

We need help to reach these 30,000 and their families. Find out how to support us here.


Positive Behaviour Support Workshops

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