What is behaviour support?

A contemporary understanding of behaviour support requires the use of a person-centred approach to improving a persons quality of life. Life enrichment, choice and human rights are prioritised alongside strategies to reduce the negative impact of challenging behaviour in a person’s life. Such support should be delivered under a clear and accountable framework.

Positive Behaviour Support (PBS)

PBS is increasingly the preferred approach of behaviour support in Australia and internationally. It has emerged from the disability rights movement and is grounded in principles of person-centred practice that seek to protect and give expression to a person’s human rights.

PBS is focussed on enhancing quality of life through systems change (environmental redesign) and educational methods, and is underpinned by person-centred values (Horner et al., 1990), the science of applied behaviour analysis (Carr et al., 2002), and other evidence-based approaches (Gore, 2013); elements that continue to be emphasised in more contemporary definitions of PBS (e.g., Gore et al., 2022; Kincaid et al., 2016).

PBS Elements

PBS integrates the following critical elements into a cohesive whole:

What are ‘challenging behaviours’?

Different terms are used to refer to behaviours that negatively impact a person’s quality of life and may present risks of harm to the person or others. These might include behaviours of action (e.g., overt behaviours such as verbal and physical aggression, property damage, inappropriate social or sexual behaviours, wandering) or inaction (e.g., those related to lack of or reduced initiation or non-performance of behaviours).

We use the term ‘challenging behaviours’ because these behaviours challenge us as a service system to find a way to address the behaviour that is both effective (in increasing quality of life, decreasing the behaviour and reducing and eliminating restrictive practices) and also appropriate (respectful of a person’s rights, aligned with their values, and the expectations of the community).

In this way, the challenge is set to the system and service providers, and seeks to avoid pathologising or devaluing a person. Challenging behaviours do not occur in a vacuum; they are the result of an interplay between a person and their environment – and our primary focus is to identify and respond to unmet needs by building capable systems and meaningful environments.

Challenging behaviour is a term that is clearly defined in the literature and is the most commonly used term in research and practice. There are other terms used. For example, the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission refer to ‘behaviours of concern’ to describe behaviours that present risk of harm to the person and/or others and that negatively impact a person’s quality of life.