Hi everyone and welcome to my letter S post in the #AtoZChallenge. Today, I want to talk about self-harming, aggression and other challenging behavior in people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Some people erroneously believe that challenging behavior is an intrinsic part of being intellectually disabled. It isn’t. Neither are self-injurious or aggressive behaviors an intrinsic part of autism. These behaviors, however, do happen more often among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities than among non-disabled people.
The causes and reinforcing factors of challenging behavior are often complex. And though I mention them in one sentence, no, a reinforcing factor is not the same as a cause. Furthermore, if removing a reinforcing factor seems effective at reducing or eliminating the undesired behavior, this does not mean the problem is all solved. After all, especially people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are at a lower emotional level of development or who struggle with communication are at risk of suffering in silence.
It may be tempting to presume motivators behind challenging behavior that are commonly believed to apply to typically-developing young children, such as attention or “getting their way”. Presuming these motivators, even correctly, is not taking into account the fact that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are firstly not (necessarily) young children. Secondly, you need to realize that, like all people, they have a need for autonomy and attention and many, especially those living in institutions, are heavily lacking in both.
There are, of course, many other contributing factors to challenging behavior. For example, physical discomfort or pain may be a factor for some, especially those with profound intellectual or multiple disabilities. Others may have experienced trauma and struggle with attachment. I for one have relatively mild attachment issues (at least as apparent in my behavior) compared to some of my fellow clients, hence why I always get stuck with the temp workers. This of late has been causing me a lot of distress and has led to significant challenging behavior, which unfortunately for me isn’t significant enough to warrant any changes. Then again, if it did, those changes might well constitute restrictive measures.