Psychosocial support for behaviour that challenges and autism

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

If your professional doesn’t think that something to do with your mental health, physical health or environment is triggering your behaviour that challenges, then you and your parents or carers should be offered a psychosocial intervention. If your behaviour that challenges happens at school, then your teachers might also be involved.

A functional assessment of behaviour (also called a functional analysis) involves looking in detail at your behaviour that challenges. This often involves asking the people supporting you (your parents, carers or teachers) to record what they think happened, what was happening before the behaviour and what happened afterwards. Although people who show behaviour that challenges often find it difficult to communicate, the professional carrying out the functional assessment should try to find out from you how you were feeling, whether you were upset by something, and if there was there something you wanted other people to know. Your professional might also spend time observing what is happening.

This is used to figure out:

  • if there is anything that triggers your behaviours that challenge
  • if there are any patterns to your behaviours that challenge
  • whether you are trying to get something that you need through your behaviours that challenge
  • whether there are things that happen during or after the behaviours that challenge which mean that the behaviours are likely to keep happening

Your professional will create a plan to try to reduce the chance of behaviours that challenge and to help you cope better with situations that might trigger these behaviours. This plan will need everyone in your life to work together to put it into action. This means the plan and strategies will need to be agreed with you, your parents or carers, your teachers and anyone else involved in your care.

The plan should:

  • be targeted at specific behaviours
  • aim to improve your quality of life (the strategies used to help you or others manage your behaviour should not feel like a punishment)
  • make changes to anything in your environment which could be contributing to the behaviours that challenge
  • include strategies that you or the people around you can use in situations likely to trigger behaviour that challenges
  • include strategies that you or the people around you can use when behaviour that challenges happens
  • include goals (such as being able to do things that you currently can’t do because of the behaviour that challenges) and an idea of the timescale for achieving these goals
  • measure the frequency and severity of the behaviours that challenge before and after the support, so you know if it’s working
  • make sure the approach to supporting you is consistent, so that your family and school respond to the behaviour that challenges in the same way

This approach is often used as part of a Positive Behaviour Support approach. You can find more information about behaviour that challenges from the National Autistic Society website and from the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (this information is specifically focused on people who have a severe learning disability).

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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