Staff responses to challenging behaviour in people with learning disabilities a dynamic and retroactive process


Emerson et al’s seminal definition of challenging behaviour identified not only its interactional nature, but also pointed out that people with such issues in their life were at risk of being denied access to regular community activities. The researchers in this study were interested in the gap that they believe exists between what we understand as good practice in supporting people with challenging behaviour and practice in learning disability services. They were particularly interested on the impact of staff members’ perspectives of managing clients with challenging behaviours in residential services.

They developed and administered semi-structured interviews with 11 members of staff who worked in two services. They also looked at operational documentation in both these and an additional service relating to challenging behaviour management. Using qualitative methodologies, they analysed the staff members’ immediate responses what were described as difficult behaviours and looked at the staff’s decision-making processes.

They found that the immediate responses of staff could be conceptualized as the result of a number of complex appraisals of situations they faced which were shaped by context in which the service was operating. Staff appeared to be balancing choices with an attempt to prioritise the best interests of all involved.

They conclude from this small interview study that the responses of staff members could be  understood as

a dynamic and retroactive process, where their past and current challenging behaviour management experiences in the service influenced their responses to clients in the future.

Thinking on Your Feet: Understanding the Immediate Responses of Staff to Adults Who Challenge Intellectual Disability Services. Ravoux, P. et al, in Journal of Applied Research in Intellectual Disabilities, 25: 189–202


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John Northfield

After qualifying as a social worker, John worked in community learning disability teams before getting involved in a number of long-stay hospital closure programmes, working to develop individual plans for people moving into their own homes. He worked for BILD, helping to develop the Quality Network and was editorial lead for the NHS electronic library learning disabilities specialist collection. This led him to found the Learning Disabilities Elf site with Andre Tomlin as a way of making the evidence accessible to practitioners in health and social care. Most recently he has worked as part of Mencap's national quality team and also been involved in a number of national website developments, including the General Medical Council's learning disabilities site.

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