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Challenging behaviour is defined as "culturally abnormal behaviour(s) of such intensity, frequency or duration that the physical safety of the person or others is placed in serious jeopardy, or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit or deny access to the use of ordinary community facilities" [1].

Challenging behaviour is most often exhibited by people with developmental disabilities, dementia, psychosis and by children, although such behaviours can be displayed by any person.

Types of challenging behaviorEdit

Common types of challenging behaviour include self-injurious behaviour (such as hitting, headbutting, biting), aggressive behaviour (such as hitting others, screaming, spitting, kicking), inappropriate sexualised behaviour (such as public masturbation or groping), behaviour directed at property (such as throwing objects and stealing) and stereotyped behaviours (such as repetitive rocking, echolalia or elective incontinence).

Causes of challenging behaviorEdit

Challenging behaviour may be caused by a number of factors, including biological (pain, medication, the need for sensory stimulation), social (boredom, seeking social interaction, the need for an element of control, lack of knowledge of community norms, insensitivity of staff and services to the person's wishes and needs), environmental (physical aspects such as noise and lighting, or gaining access to preferred objects or activities), psychological (feeling excluded, lonely, devalued, labelled, disempowered, living up to people's negative expectations) or simply a means of communication. A lot of the time, challenging behaviour is learned and brings rewards and it is very often possible to teach people new behaviours to achieve the same aims. Behaviour analysts have focused on a developmental model of challenging behaviour.[2]

Experience and research suggests that what professionals call "challenging behaviour" is often a reaction to the challenging environments that services or others create around people with developmental disabilities, and a method of communicating dissatisfaction with the failure of services or others to listen for what kind of life makes most sense to the person, especially where services or others create lifestyles and relationships that are centred on what suits them or the service and its staff rather than what suits the person.

Challenging behaviour can often be viewed as a ‘behavioural equivalent’ of a mental health problem. However, research evidence indicates that challenging behaviors and mental health problems are relatively independent conditions.[3]

A common principle in behaviour management is looking for the message an individual is communicating through their challenging behaviour: "All behaviour has meaning". This is a core in the functional analysis process.

Children communicate through their behaviour, especially those who have not acquired language and vocabulary skills to tell the adult what the problem is.

In adults with developmental disabilities certain types of challenging behaviour can predict contact with police and hospital admission.[4]

Behavior response cycleEdit

Challenging behaviors may be viewed as occurring in a cycle:

  • Trigger
  • Escalation
  • Crisis
  • Recovery

Analysis of this cycle provides a foundation for using a variety of strategies to minimize the triggers of challenging behavior, teach more appropriate behaviors in response to these triggers, or provide consequences to the challenging behavior that will encourage a more appropriate response. Behavioral strategies such as Applied Behavior Analysis, operant conditioning and positive behavior support use similar approaches to analyzing and responding to challenging behaviors.

Challenging behaviour by people in learning disability servicesEdit

Because of language skill deficits accompanying their condition many people with learning difficulties find it difficult to use verbal strategies to express themselves, resolve conflicts etc. As a consequence the can resort to behaviour which is labelled as challenging

Main article: Challenging behaviour and learning disabilities

Ethical considerationsEdit


  1. Emerson, E. 1995. Challenging behaviour: analysis and intervention with people with learning difficulties. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  2. (2007). A Preliminary Description of the Occurrence of Proto-injurious Behavior in Typically Developing Children. Journal of Early and Intensive Behavioral Intervention 3 (4): 334–47.
  3. (2010). Challenging behavior and co-morbid psychopathology in adults with intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities 31 (2): 362–6.
  4. (2011). Psychometric properties of the Disability Assessment Schedule (DAS) for behavior problems: An independent investigation. Research in Developmental Disabilities 32 (2): 653–8.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

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