Caring for learning-disabled clients with challenging behaviour

Care staff working with learning-disabled clients who also exhibit challenging behaviours – for example, throwing objects, screaming and hoarding things – could be particularly prone to making the ‘fundamental attribution error’, that is believing the client is behaving that way deliberately because of who they are, rather than because of their circumstances. That’s according to a study by Luise Weigel and colleagues at the University of East Anglia.

Fifteen care staff were asked to recall two recent negative events, one involving a client of theirs who had intellectual disabilities and displayed challenging behaviours, and another involving a client who had intellectual disabilities but who did not exhibit challenging behaviour.

Unlike their view of negative events involving the learning-disabled client who didn't have behavioural problems, the staff tended to describe the negative events involving the client with challenging behaviour as being more within that client’s control, and they believed such events had less to do with environmental circumstances and more to do with the client. Moreover, when asked to comment for five minutes on the two clients, the staff were more critical, hostile and overly emotionally involved when talking about the client with challenging behaviour.

To help care staff working with people with intellectual disabilities and challenging behaviour, Dr. Peter Langdon, a co-researcher on the study, told The Digest that he and a colleague were attempting to adapt a family intervention programme used with families who have a relative with psychosis (previously developed by Elizabeth Kuipers and colleagues). The new intervention for care staff would involve “psycho-education, and a cognitive component” he said.

Weigel, L., Langdon, P.E., Collins, S. & O’Brien, Y. (2006). Challenging behaviour and learning disabilities: The relationship between expressed emotion and staff attributions. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 45, 205-216.
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