Cerebral Palsy

What is challenging behaviour?

Challenging behaviour has been found to occur more often in people with more severe disabilities, especially those with a learning disability. Every behaviour has a function for the person displaying it. Sometimes this can be a form of communication, a wider mental health problem, biological cause, or an environmental cause.

Challenging behaviour can be:

  • Self-injurious: Head-banging, scratching, pulling eye poking, picking, grinding teeth, and eating things that aren’t food.
  • Aggressive: Biting and scratching, hitting, pinching, grabbing, hair pulling, throwing objects, verbal abuse, screaming, spitting.
  • Stereotyped: Repetitive movements, rocking, repetitive speech and repetitive manipulation of objects.
  • Non-person directed: Damage to property, hyperactivity, stealing, inappropriate sexualised behaviour, destruction of clothing, incontinence, lack of awareness of danger, withdrawal.

It can be very difficult as a parent or carer to understand and cope with this type of behaviour. Looking behind the meaning of the behaviour is however the first step to providing guidance and support to the child.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the behaviour new or has it been going a while?
  • Who does the behaviour occur with?
  • Is there a pattern to the behaviour, for example a certain time of day?
  • Is this a behaviour to avoid doing something, or to escape?
  • Is this a behaviour for a need to be met, or for interaction or attention?
  • Is this a behaviour for a sensory reward?
  • Is the trigger for the behaviour known or unknown?
  • Have there been any changes in medical history? For example illness or medication.
  • What changes in environment have occurred? For example, change in daily routine, activities, peer groups, lack of stimulation, fatigue, pain or discomfort, changes in noise level or changes to the people around the child, peers or professionals.


For more information your can download this ‘Managing Challenging Behaviour’ factsheet by Cerebra,  or visit the challenging behaviour website


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