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How to Manage Challenging Behaviours with Positive Behaviour Support?

In recent years, the importance of a person-based approach to people with complex support needs has become more widely accepted. Positive behaviour support considers each service user as an individual. It endeavours to meet their physical, mental, emotional and social needs and helps them live a happier, more independent life by teaching appropriate coping strategies.

What is positive behaviour support?

Positive behaviour support (PBS) is an evidence-based approach that aims to provide comprehensive and personalised long-term support to people with learning disabilities, autism and other complex needs. It aims to improve the quality life not just of the service user, but of their friends, family and wider support network. It does this through teaching positive, constructive ways to manage challenging behaviour, rather than focusing on restrictive and aversive practices. It is not just about reacting to challenging behaviour, but about proactively developing systems and environments that suit each individual.

How PBS can manage challenging behaviours

If an individual is displaying complex needs, then a PBS framework will attempt to identify the causes of their behaviour. For example, the service user may be trying to express their discomfort because the room is too noisy. Correctly identifying what triggers the behaviour may allow support workers and service users to work together to find new, safer ways for them to communicate their distress.

These kinds of assessments will require the support worker to take into account the service user’s personal history, any physical or mental disabilities, their communication and social skills, the surrounding environment and anything that happens immediately before, during or after the display of challenging behaviour. This could include discussion with not just the service user, but their family, doctor and anyone else who knows them well.

Once the cause of the behaviour has been identified, support strategies can be developed. In the case of noise causing distress, the service user may benefit from noise-cancelling headphones or having a quiet room or space where they can go to get away from everyone else. It may also involve giving the service user plenty of warning if something particularly noisy is going to happen, and having methods available to distract or divert them if they unexpectedly encounter distressing noise. Restrictive interventions, such as restraint, should only be used in an emergency when there is an immediate risk of harm.

People who are having their basic needs met are less likely to display challenging behaviour. Simple things such as ensuring service users have an adequate diet and enough rest can make them happier and healthier. If individuals are not receiving what they need, support workers need to identify why and find alternative ways to offer support.

When used correctly, positive support behaviour allows a person who displays challenging behaviour to develop healthier ways to express themselves and manage their feelings. This will make them safer and happier, which in turn will improve conditions for their family and support workers. These new skills will also allow them to live a more independent and fulfilling life in future.