Wikipedia Precis

This revision: 9th May 2013 .
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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 behaviour

Common types of challenging behaviour include self-injurious behaviour, aggressive behaviour, inappropriate sexualised behaviour, behaviour directed at property and stereotyped behaviours (such as repetitive rocking or echolalia).

Causes of challenging behaviour

Challenging behaviour may be caused by many kinds 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)

Challenging behaviour may also simply be 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]

Behaviour response cycle

Challenging behaviours 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 minimise the triggers of challenging behaviour, teach more appropriate behaviours in response to these triggers, or provide consequences to the challenging behaviour that will encourage a more appropriate response.

Useful Links


The CBF is a foundation started and led by the parent of a child with Challenging Behaviour and severe learning difficulties. The CBF provides support and information to families and professionals dealing with Challenging Behaviour.

Team Teach

Team Teach is one of the largest providers of behavioural management training in social care and educational contexts. Their course is centred on positive handling and de-escalation strategies, but also includes training in physical restraint techniques and the legal implications and recording requirements that should necessarily follow.

The Tizard Centre

The Tizard Centre at the University of Kent provide a well respected short course in Challenging Behaviour in people with Learning Disabilities

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