Strong evidence – there is lots of high-quality evidence that some young people find this treatment option helpful.

What are behaviours that challenge?

Behaviours that challenge include hurting others or yourself, damaging things, and doing things that make everyday life difficult for yourself or others. Sometimes autistic people and their families prefer to use the term distressed behaviours. Not everyone who is autistic will have behaviours that challenge, but they are fairly common for autistic people who also have a learning disability.

Behaviours that challenge can happen when:

  • you can’t make other people understand what you want or how you feel
  • you don’t understand what is happening
  • you feel like you have no control
  • you find it hard to cope with unstructured time
  • you are unhappy or upset about something
  • you are ill or in pain
  • your routine or surroundings have changed
  • you experience things like loud noises or particular smells (if you have sensory sensitivities)

Autistic people and their carers often use the term ‘meltdowns’ to describe situations when an autistic person becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour. 

What kind of support is available?

As part of the initial assessment of your autism, the team should ask about any behaviours that challenge. They should also look at any situations that might make behaviours that challenge more likely.

Your professional should give you, your parents or carers and (where appropriate) your teachers information about anything that makes your behaviours that challenge more likely so that together you can find ways of managing these.

If behaviours that challenge start to become a problem, then you and your parents or carers should seek advice from one of the professionals involved in your care.

Your professional should look at:

  • your particular behaviours that challenge: what happens, where and when they happen, and whether there are there any triggers or patterns
  • how severe the behaviours are and the effect they have on you, your family and any other people you come into contact with
  • any recent changes to your routine or environment which might have triggered the behaviours that challenge
  • any evidence of a physical health problem or change in your physical health
  • whether you might be experiencing bullying or maltreatment
  • whether you might be experiencing difficulties related to your mental health

The aim of managing behaviour that challenges is to reduce the risk of harm to you and others, as well as to find and support you with any difficulties that could be triggering these behaviours. If this process isn’t able to help with your behaviours that challenge, you could be offered psychosocial support for behaviour that challenges.

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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