Challenging Behaviour

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Challenging behaviour has been 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".

"Ordinarily we would expect the person to have shown the pattern of behaviour that presents such a challenge to services for a considerable period of time. Severely challenging behaviour is not a transient phenomenon."

Challenging behaviour is most often, though not exclusively exhibited by individuals with learning developmental disabilities, individuals with dementia or other mental health needs, such as strokes or acquired brain injuries, individuals with psychosis and by children, although such behaviours can be displayed by any person.


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


The term "challenging behaviour" has become subject to widespread misuse, most often as a euphemism for violent or aggressive behaviour.

In educational settings it is often used to refer to acts of disobedience, defiance, or other non-compliance with authority. This is not what the term was originally intended to refer to.

Increasingly professional groups are adopting alternative terms for example "behaviour of concern".