Challenging Behaviour

As anyone who has ever dealt with challenging behaviour will know, it can be extremely stressful. If you are living with or caring for someone who is prone to tantrums, hitting or kicking, throwing things or hurting other people, chances are you don't want to risk going out and about with them. That can make life very difficult.

Understanding why someone is behaving in a challenging way is very important. Nine times out of ten it's because they're having difficulty communicating their needs. We all like to have choice and control in our lives, and not having that can be very distressing for someone with learning disabilities.

Giving people options, rather than making demands - enabling them to make choices and influence their own lives and environment can make a considerable difference to their quality of life and, so behaviour.

If you are caring for someone who is behaving in a challenging way, the best starting point is your GP who can refer you on to an appropriate service. Don't be deterred if your GP is dismissive to start with. You know your child. If you think there's a problem push for a referral.

Emotional and psychological support for people with learning disabilities is quite a specialist area and, again, your GP is a good starting point for a referral. It may also be worth contacting your local NHS mental health trust, if you are fortunate enough to have one in your area. It is possible to access one outside your borough if yours doesn't have one.

Young people who develop emotional or mental health problems may be referred to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS team) or a psychiatrist or psychologist within a learning disability service. When referring adults, GPs sometimes use the criteria of an IQ of below 70 and adaptive behaviour difficulties.

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Keep calm
Keep calm and try not to seem angry or upset, even though you might be feeling it. The person you are caring for will probably be sensitive to your mood.

Find out the reason
Remember there is a legitimate reason for someone's challenging behaviour. Try and find out what that reason is and what that person needs or is trying to communicate.

Pre-warning signs
Challenging behaviour may appear to occur out of the blue, but most people show signs they're becoming agitated or distressed before they lose control. Learn to recognise those signs and you may be able to defuse a situation before it arises.

Distraction often works - you should keep to hand a bag of familiar sensory objects or play a familiar/favourite tune.

Work on communication skills because frustration with making needs known is often the cause of difficult behaviour.

Loneliness can be a big problem. Work on creating a circle of friends or speak to your local social services department for advice.

Offering choices and encouraging decision making are important. Give the person you care for some control of their own lives.

Self esteem
Improving self-esteem improves behaviour. Always include the person you care for in conversations, explaining things clearly and reflecting respect in your tone of voice. Never speak about the person as if they aren't present.

Give a role
We all like to feel needed. Make sure the person you are caring for has an opportunity to contribute, even with things as simple as household chores. Always give plenty of positive reinforcement.

Make sure that every day has an element of fun and some stimulating experiences. Fun is important to everybody's quality of life.

You matter too
Take care of yourself and your partner. Don't isolate yourself - join forces with other parents and support groups.


The Challenging Behaviour Foundation
Provides information and support to parents and professionals caring for people with severe learning disabilities and challenging behaviour.

The Challenging Behaviour Information Sheets and DVDs 
A publications guide on the Challenging Behaviour Foundation website. It provides a comprehensive list of publications on the subject of challenging behaviour produced by various different charities and other organisations.

Provides advice and information about tackling challenging behaviour. Helpline 0808 808 1111.

About Learning Disabilities
Information and advice about learning disabilities, including challenging behaviour.

NHS Moodzone
This NHS site shows where mental health support services of all sorts are available in your area.

Maximum Potential
Offers occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and sensory integration. Sensory problems may cause challenging behaviour and dealing with these problems can help resolve the challenging behaviour.

Lorrine Marer, Behavioural Specialist
Teaches responsible behaviour, respect and co-operation through the use of descriptive praise and reflective listening. Also offers ADHD coaching.

Independent Challenging Behaviour consultancy, which helps families devise strategies to change behaviour and take a 'step back' to see the world through the eyes of their child.

Carers Trust
Advice about making the most of services in your local area such as GPs, carer's centres, local authority children's services and adult services for people with disabilities. Offers support for carers who are looking after someone with challenging behaviour.

The Loddon Training & Consultancy
Runs a course for parents/carers of children who may have additional needs arising from a diagnosis or statement of Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, E.B.D, Special Educational Needs or challenging behaviour. The course offers practical tips and guidance for parents to support their child and their challenging behaviour and to openly discuss individual problems and meet new people in similar situations.

The Special Yoga Centre
The Special Yoga Centre is a Centre of Excellence for yoga therapy for children, with an emphasis on children with special needs. It offers a wide range of training courses, one-to-one yoga therapy, outreach work in schools, group classes and parent support groups.

Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)
The SCIE has published three 'At a glance' briefings for family carers who are supporting people with challenging behaviour. The guides at aimed individually at adults, children and teenagers.


Offers various kinds of therapy to people with learning disabilities including counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy and psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapy. Specialises in offering support to those who have experienced trauma or abuse.

Royal College of Psychiatrists 
Readable and well-researched information for the public.

Institute of Psychotherapy and Disability
Develops, accredits and regulates psychotherapists who work with people with learning disabilities.

Naomi Richardson
Provides counselling service for people with learning disabilities and their carers.

British Institute of Learning Disabilities Helplines

Offers helplines for a range of problems including bereavement, emotional distress, rape and sexual abuse.

Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities

Tips on how to make young people feel good about themselves, where to go for help if they develop mental health problems and support for carers.

Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust

Offers a range of therapies, including psychotherapy and family therapy for children and adults with a range of learning disabilities including autism and Asperger's Syndrome.

Offers family counselling.

Support for single parents including those who have children with disabilities.

Jewish Women's Aid
Jewish Women's Aid is the only specialist organisation in the UK supporting Jewish women affected by domestic violence and abuse. They offer counselling for women, children and young people.

Written by: The JWeb Team