At times leaders may be confronted with challenging behaviours of participants that interfere with the program's aims and objectives or other participant's right to enjoyment of the programme experience. Under these circumstances there is a need to deal with these behaviours in the best interests of the participant concerned and also to maintain the rights and safety of the other participants.

This action usually will involve placing some restriction on the rights or opportunities of the participant. The measures chosen should be those that are the least restrictive of available alternatives.

Some of the questions we may ask in deciding whether or not we should intervene with some behaviour problems are: Will the behaviour -

  • be life or health threatening?;
  • become serious in the future if not modified?;
  • be dangerous to others?;
  • damage property or materials?; or
  • interfere with community access and acceptance?

Firstly it is important to understand what may cause a participant to behave inappropriately:


  • the level of stimulation - sight and sound;
  • space both environmental and personal, reaction to open spaces and density of people;
  • change in, or predictability of routines;
  • relating to the leader's communication style; and
  • relating to peers.


  • neurological factors - brain function;
  • menstruation;
  • dental factor;
  • sensory factor;
  • infections;
  • pain;
  • level of personal self-help skills or social skills; and
  • ability to communicate.


  • fear of people or places;
  • not wanting to be in that situation or environment; and
  • emotional or psychiatric disturbances.

Attention to the following will reduce the participant’s need to exhibit difficult behaviour, by ensuring that the participants have:

  • access to appropriate activities that motivate, challenge and are achievable;
  • an opportunity to participate in program planning if appropriate;
  • the opportunity to use their current skills and to participate in preferred activities;
  • some involvement in activities that build on current skills;
  • predictable routines and an explanation for the need to change when necessary;
  • adequate privacy and personal space, where close contact and the need for jostling is minimised;
  • an opportunity to assist the leaders; and
  • an environment that does not provide over stimulation, where noise level is monitored and have access to quiet places and places where an appropriate level of activity is available.

Varying the consequences of behaviour can modify a participant's behaviour.

For example, if a participant seeking attention continually bangs the spoon on the meal table and is rewarded with attention each time, the behaviour is likely to be repeated. If the behaviour is ignored and receives no attention it is likely to stop.

Behaviours that are followed by pleasant consequences are likely to occur again, while those that receive no reward by not being responded to are less likely to occur again.

In aiming to modify challenging behaviour, the following steps may help:

  • Clearly identify behaviour - what is it that makes that behaviour challenging and hence needing modification?
  • Identify the reinforcement the participant receives by behaving in that manner.
  • Identify why the participant is behaving in that way and whether needs are met through demonstrating the behaviour.
  • Identify an alternative behaviour that will meet the participant's needs.
  • Introduce them to the alternative behaviour.
  • Ensure the appropriate number of leaders are utilised. Too many people trying to manage the behaviour can be counterproductive.

For example -

The participant tapping the table with a spoon does it to attract attention. Ignoring the behaviour will mean that the need is not fulfilled. By coming over and attending the participant when the spoon is not being tapped on the table will reinforce the behaviour of not tapping a spoon.

In ignoring the behaviour remember:

  • ignore means not to acknowledge the behaviour at all, no talking, touching or looking at the participant;
  • the behaviour will often get worse before it gets better;
  • ignoring has to be consistent; even looking over once will reinforce the behaviour;
  • it works best when reinforcement is available for an alternative acceptable behaviour;
  • it is not effective if the behaviour is receiving attention or recognition from others; and
  • it is not appropriate if the behaviour poses a threat to others.

When reinforcing an alternative behaviour remember:

  • reinforce the behaviour immediately it occurs;
  • overdoing reinforcement will lead to boredom with it and it will no longer be rewarding;
  • use a variety of reinforcers; and
  • reinforce every alternative behaviour initially and once the behaviour has been established, gradually fade out the reinforcer.

Note: It is important to source the reason for excessive behaviour. Not all inappropriate behaviour is the result of attention seeking. Sometimes inappropriate behaviours may occur because of a genuine problem or grievance that should be addressed. This may often be the situation where a participant has limited communication skills.