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Challenging / Disruptive Behaviour

Many people with autism are reported to have challenging or disruptive behaviours. But these are such vague terms that it is important to understand what they mean.

For some people, the term is wide-ranging and refers to anything an individual may do which is inappropriate. So it can include problems as diverse as refusing food, staying awake all night, wetting the bed, removing clothes in public or flicking fingers. Of course, what seems inappropriate to one person may seem perfectly reasonable to someone else.

For some people, challenging / disruptive behaviour refers only to those behaviours which are are likely to cause significant harm to the individual or to his or her carers. So it is restricted to problems such as aggression, self injury, throwing tantrums or wandering off unsupervised. Again, what seems to be challenging or harmful to one person may seem perfectly reasonable to someone else.

Emerson et al define challenging behvaviours as "culturally abnormally behaviour(s) of such an intensity, frequency or duration, that the physical safety of the person or others is likely to be placed in serious jeopardy, or behaviour which is likely to seriously limit use of, or result in the person being denied access to, ordinary community facilities."

Some people on the autism spectrum claim that they don't have challenging behaviours, they just behave differently to everybody else. In their view, "neuro-typical" people are just as likely to behave strangely, for example by using idioms that people on the autism spectrum can't understand.

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About This Glossary

This glossary is designed to explain some of the jargon and gobbledygook used by some people when they talk about autism or research..

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The fact that an intervention is listed in this glossary does not necessarily mean that we agree with its use. Nor does it necessarily mean that there is any scientifically valid or reliable evidence behind it.