Challenging "behaviour that challenges"

‘So-and-so has challenging behaviour.’ ‘So-and-so’s behaviour challenges those around him.’

These are well-used labels in social care, but what do they mean? And what does labelling someone in this way do to them and to those around them?

Ultimately of course, a person’s challenging behaviour may lead to crisis and to admission to a long stay hospital. At a barely less severe level, it is likely to result in an unfulfilled, frustrated life and difficult working conditions for support teams.

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Good social care organisations understand that almost all challenging behaviour is a form of communication that occurs when the person does not manage to communicate by other means. It may have become habitual over many years, but people are not born with challenging behaviour.

It is not innate. That means it is caused by their environment, and it is our job to work with the person to help them, and their communication partner, find better ways to communicate.

Who’s challenging who?

Ben is a young man with a history of challenging behaviour. He has worked as an expert trainer on a pilot project called “Who’s Challenging Who?” since April 2016.

The project helps frontline care staff better understand the lived experiences of people with a learning disability whose behaviour has been labelled as challenging; emphasising the role of staff in reducing challenging behaviour.

By sharing his stories and experiences in leading many training courses, Ben has been able to help support staff and managers to gain a new perspective on what it really means to be labelled ‘challenging.’

He has grown in personal confidence and become an articulate presenter, able to deliver training at short notice and with little preparation.

Ben is extremely capable of holding the attention of an audience. Delegates report back…

“Ben was a fantastic trainer.”

“I thought this was very interesting and presented very well by Ben.”

“Having Ben leading made it much more relevant and insightful.”

“A pleasure to meet and listen to Ben.”

Ben has also advised on course content and structure, and professionally supported one of the other trainers who had very low self-esteem at the beginning of the project. He comes to work with a positive attitude and is not afraid to share his opinions if he thinks that things could be done better.

Ben actively champions the rights of everybody with a learning disability and sees sharing his personal experiences as a way of initiating change. Ironically, during the project, Ben faced barriers to his continued involvement as support for him to attend his job was contingent on the absence of challenging behaviour. Despite this Ben persevered and remains involved with the project.

Academic recognition

The positive outcomes of the ‘Who’s challenging who’ pilot have been widely talked about in research circles.

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Who’s challenging who’ has been talked about in research circles.

Ben has presented his work at two conferences (the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD) International Positive Behaviour Support Research and Practice Conference 2017 and the Who’s Challenging Who? End of Project Conference 2017).

Ben is also a co-author on a published article in Learning Disability Practice (Richards, Williams, Przybylak, & Flynn, 2018) about his experiences of being a trainer on the Who’s Challenging Who? Project.

Ben was heavily involved in writing the article and has also shared his experiences of employment for another article that has been planned for later this year. Ben is also a co-author on the main trial results paper (Hastings et al., 2018).

What happens next?

Over the coming year, a development project is planned in collaboration with Hertfordshire Foundation Trust, where Ben will train other people with a learning disability to deliver the training package; after it has been revised to include their own personal stories for use by the Trust’s Assessment and Treatment services.

It is hoped that Ben will be an inspiration to the aspiring trainers and provide guidance and support to them as they develop in their roles.