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Challenging & complex behaviours: Positive Behaviour Support

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Challenging & complex behaviours: Positive Behaviour Support

Traditional approaches to managing behaviour have been largely ineffective - a more effective approach is Positive Behaviour Support.


In the past society's responses to challenging and complex behaviours have included imprisonment, torture and banishment from the community. Today, punishment is still a common response, whether it be prisons at the public level, or giving someone the cold shoulder at a personal level.


Some traditional techniques are still used today to try and manage the behaviour of people with disabilities, such as:

  • Taking away desired objects
  • Locking away/secluding
  • Hitting
  • Tying up
  • Ignoring/shunning
  • Bribing (coercion).


What Is Positive Behaviour Support?

Positive Behaviour Support is a modern approach to challenging behaviours. It has gained international acceptance and is being adopted by many organizations and government departments in the disability sector. It goals are to assist a person in engaging in less challenging behaviour and increase their quality of life.


Key points on Positive Behaviour Support

Positive behaviour support is exactly what it sounds like - a supportive, positive approach. Key points include:

  • We shouldn't try to control others, but offer support instead
  • Positive responses are better than coercion and punishment
  • Don't just blame the person, look for wider causes in the environment
  • Look for the reason behind a behaviour (e.g. is there an unmet need?)
  • Every person has unique strengths and talents to offer
  • Everyone deserves respect, quality of life and effective services.


An example

At the supermarket, Paul's support worker finds that after a few minutes of shopping Paul will suddenly start throwing items from the supermarket shelves and yelling loudly. 


Instead of just seeing Paul as being difficult and throwing a tantrum, his support worker looks for the causes, and especially the message behind the behaviour. It is a new supermarket, and this has upset Paul's routine as the layout is completely different. This, combined with the noisy over-stimulating environment, prove too much for Paul to manage. 


After discussion with colleagues, a plan is set to just take Paul into the new supermarket for only 30 seconds at first, then gradually increase the lengths of visits each week until he has got used to the new environment.Paul is also encouraged to say when he starts to feel uncomfortable. The support workers give Paul lots of encouragement for handling the situation well or for verbalizing his discomfort. 


The situation is discussed with the supermarket manager who agrees not to ban Paul from the supermarket when she realizes action is being taken to resolve the issue. 

References and further information

Association for Positive Behaviour Support -


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