Behaviour is the symptom, not the problem

29 August 2016

Dean is a young man aged 22. He likes fishing and bike riding but his favourite activity of all is spending time with his Mum. He has autism, a moderate intellectual disability and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dean has demonstrated challenging behaviours for most of his life, sometimes resulting in a risk of harm to others.

Dean’s mum engaged us to provide specialist behaviour support during a particularly difficult period in Dean’s life, where she was no longer able to manage his behaviours at home.

Our Specialist Behaviour Service consulted with Dean, his psychiatrist and other health professionals, and worked closely with his Mum.

We focused on pooling everyone’s expertise: Mum who knew him best of all; his psychiatrist who understood his trauma and mental health; and our own experts from our Specialist Behaviour Service.

We were able to build trusting relationships with all parties, get a full picture of Dean’s life, and work with everyone on techniques to improve his life and reduce his use of challenging behaviour.

Through a strong partnership with Dean and his Mum at its core there has been a remarkable improvement in Dean’s quality of life and a significant reduction in the frequency, intensity and duration of challenging behaviours.

Some people with a disability, like Dean, use challenging behaviour that can concern their family, friends and carers. Behaviour that may cause physical or emotional harm, or limit the individual’s ability to engage fully with the community and, in some cases, leave families unable to cope or too frightened to keep the person with a disability in the family setting.

Specialist Behaviour Support is an evidence-based approach - meaning it is proven to work –that is focussed on reducing the need to use these challenging behaviours.

Central to specialist behaviour support is having a close look at the quality of life of the person displaying the behaviour, to ensure the person with a disability is living the best life they can.

Often we find that once quality of life is improved that may be all that is required to reduce undesirable behaviour. We look at what sorts of things does the person like to do that they’re not currently doing? And are they spending time with the people they like the most?

It’s also worth bearing in mind that challenging behaviour always serves a purpose of some kind. The person with a disability may not feel heard or valued, their needs may not be being met, they may feel their lives are unfulfilling or they may inadvertently be rewarded for outbursts (e.g. they receive positive recognition or reward by a parent or carer) which motivates them to continue.

Our team works with the person with a disability, their family and their support staff (including carers and allied health professionals) to develop a detailed Behaviour Support Plan which includes:

  • A functional behaviour assessment using direct and indirect methods
  • Assessing why the person uses the behaviour
  • How to increase the individual’s quality of life
  • Teaching the individual new skills, so they don’t need to rely on negative behaviour to have their needs met
  • Psychoeducational approaches that focus on educating clients and involving the family
  • Emergency plan to safely deal with any incidents
  • Ongoing evaluation to ensure goals of the plan are met and challenging behaviour is reduced.

Initially Dean’s Mum was reluctant to ask for help, until things became unmanageable for her. We have now been working with Dean for six months and have seen a man who was in a state of constant hypervigilance develop into a relaxed young man who is now able to interact with his support team, participate in community access outings and learn new skills.

And his Mum is able to be Mum again.

Simon Wardale has worked with people with intellectual disability and challenging behaviour for over 20 years. Simon manages the Specialist Behaviour Service with Endeavour Foundation. Simon has held senior positions with the Office of the Senior Practitioner (Victoria) the Centre of Excellence for Behaviour Support (Queensland) and as Director of Forensic Disability (Queensland). Simon’s publications have focussed on training and development in Positive Behaviour Support.

Our Specialist Behaviour Service team has extensive experience and training in contemporary behaviour support practices, ageing and mental health. If you’d like a confidential discussion on how we can support you or a family member, please contact us on 1800 112 112 or us to find out more.

* Photo is indicative only.

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