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Learning disabilities: coping with challenging behaviour

Children with learning disabilities can have challenging behaviour. Dealing with your child's challenging behaviour can be stressful, but you don't have to tackle it alone.

All children can behave in ways that are difficult to deal with for example, having tantrums, kicking or throwing things. Children who have learning disabilities, may behave in a challenging way more frequently, or their behaviour may be more extreme. This is often because they can't express what they want or feel at the time.

Understanding why your child is behaving like this can help you find a way of dealing with the challenging behaviour.

What might be causing difficult behaviour

If you're child feels confused, this can cause challenging behaviour. Other causes that can trigger a reaction include being bullied, frightened or in pain.

If you can find out what the triggers for challenging behaviour are, you may be able to take steps to stop it. For example, don't stay in a noisy room if this upsets your child.

Try to keep calm, and avoid showing that you are angry or upset, even though you might be feeling it.

Get help with your child's behaviour

Getting professional support can help you come up with strategies for dealing with challenging behaviour. You can talk to the special educational needs co-ordinator (SENCO) at your child's school or nursery, or to your health visitor, GP or paediatrician. All of them can refer you to more specialist help, if it's needed. This could include speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists or paediatricians.

You can also talk to other parents who have gone through similar experiences. Ask your health visitor, or get in touch with Mencap or Contact a Family to see if there's anyone in your area.

You may also be able to contact the Challenging Behaviour Foundation (CBF), which offers information and support to people with severe learning disabilities and their families. 

Care and support has lots of information about getting the right support from your local authority if you're looking after a child with learning disabilities. Ask your local authority for an assessment. Read more about assessments for carers.

The charity Scope's online forums include expert advice on challenging behaviour.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has produced an Easyread document entitled: People with a learning disability that challenges: our advice about good, safe support, based on new guidelines published in May 2015

Article provided by NHS Choices

See original on NHS Choices


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Page last reviewed: 23/02/2017

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