Universities lagging on specialist expertise for challenging behaviour

Simon Wardale, manager of Endeavour Foundation’s Specialist Behaviour Service, says there is an urgent need for Australian universities to offer post graduate qualifications in specialist behaviour support for people with an intellectual disability.

Mr Wardale said Australia’s academic institutions did not recognise that training in behaviour support for people with challenging behaviours was a specialist area of expertise and, as a result, people with an intellectual disability often had a reduced quality of life.

“It’s critical that we take our lead from international models because, quite simply, they are delivering significantly better outcomes for people with a disability,” Mr Wardale said.

Speaking following the 2016 IASSIDD* World Congress on intellectual disability, he said that training in the US, UK and New Zealand was delivering a degree of clinical expertise that is beyond anything currently available in Australia.

“A statewide audit of the quality of Positive Behaviour Support Plans showed that proper training and accreditation of clinicians – as well as an ongoing audit process – are necessary to ensure that behaviour support will genuinely deliver for people with an intellectual disability.

“Currently we try to 'up skill' generalist clinicians to work in this incredibly challenging area, while our counterparts overseas view it as a Masters Degree specialty. There’s a huge gap in learning and expertise that we must bridge.

“We need an increased focus on the technical aspects of positive behaviour support. Being person centred is critical, but insufficient. People with serious or long-standing challenging behaviour need more than niceties, they need skilled clinicians who can translate proven behaviour change strategies into front-line disability services.

“Having effective behaviour support, that really works, is a fundamental human right. This is even more critical for people whose rights or freedom of movement have been limited as a response to their challenging behaviours.

“Positive behaviour support enables people with intellectual disability to learn positive and effective ways of meeting their needs, so the challenging behaviours they employed in the past simply are not necessary any longer.

“Good quality behaviour support plans are a critical requirement for positive outcomes. Support workers need to have readable, achievable behaviour support plans that are based on sound, well-evidenced strategies.

“Positive behaviour support is designed to enable people to learn positive and effective ways of meeting their needs, so that the challenging behaviours they employed in the past simply aren’t necessary any longer. What we do know is that good quality behaviour support plans are a critical requirement for positive outcomes. Support workers need to have readable, achievable behaviour support plans that are based on sound, well-evidenced strategies.

“Crucially, our commitment – first and foremost – needs to be on improving the quality of life for the person. It is true to say that challenging behaviour must be recognised as a symptom but, like any clinical intervention, we must target the cause.”

*International Association for the Scientific Study of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities