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Understanding People: Positive Behaviour Support

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“If people we support are to achieve the lifestyle they desire, we need to understand them. Understanding requires insight, time and empathy”

Michael Smull

The term 'Positive Behaviour Support' is used when people, who use their behaviours to communicate their needs, require focussed and intentional support to have a good life, together with keeping themselves, and others around them ok and safe.

This intentional support needs to be deeply considered and designed around who people are, along with considering important areas in the persons life, such as Autonomy, Love, Relationships, Home, Work, Play, Learning, Communicating, Health, and so on.

"If you're going to work with me, you have to listen to me. And you can't just listen with your ears, because it will go to your head too fast. You have to listen with your whole body, because then some of what I say will enter your heart."

Christine Mayer, Self Advocate

Understanding People

Understanding who people are, is the single key to not only understanding the possible 'why' someone might be behaving in certain ways, but it can also ensure that people are seen in a very human context. We all may not react well to some things at some time. Working out what to do, when someone is feeling and communicating using their behaviour, to help them, and the people around them be calm, and feel safe is important. What is as important is working out how to help people feel less of a need to use their behaviour, by discovering what works and doesn't work for them across all areas of their life. An area that can get overlooked is the area of love and relationships. Belonging, being loved together with feeling safe, are things that can be disregarded, and not much focus placed on them.

David Pitonyak talks about relationships and the importance of belonging for people who may communicate using their behaviours. You can read more about David here 

Sometimes, when people (any of us) use our behaviour to communicate, we can do so in a way that is not helpful to us, or to those around us. It sometimes might include ways that are aggressive, intimidating and dangerous. This can be called 'challenging behaviour' or 'behaviours of concern'.

Challenging behaviour, in the disability service sector, is known to be ‘…behaviour 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’. Emerson, E. (1995) Challenging Behaviour. Analysis and Intervention in People with Learning Difficulties, Cambridge University Press.

Some people and their supporters may need more tailored and specific planning and support if there are behaviours of concern. This can be known as a 'Positive Behaviour Support Plan'.

Person Centred

Genuine person centred planning becomes critically important when people are specifically at risk or vulnerable to being isolated, or restricted within their home, work and community. It is even more important at these times, that the rights of people to be upheld and reflected in any support provided. Read more about person centred planning here 

Historically, people with disability were supported in ways that reflected the answers to the questions such as "What’s wrong with you? How do we fix you? And What do we do with you if we can’t fix you?". This was a 'deficiency' focussed approach, and often embedded in the medical model.

Person centred, quality behaviour supports, more reflect the answers to questions such as "What does a good life look like to you?", "What are your capacities and gifts?", "What supports do you need to express them?", "Where and with whom, do you feel you belong  and are loved?", "What works well for you and what does not?",  "When we cannot understand what it is you are trying to communicate with us, how do we best support you?", "What do you need us to do?"

WAiS have a range of resources to help you with person centred planning, simply click the button below.

This animation shares what a ‘Good Life’ includes; relationships, love, autonomy, belonging and contribution.

When we use our behaviour to communicate what we want and/or need, to where it can cause risk to us, or others, this can sometimes end up with our rights being impacted, or removed. Deep consideration is needed as to what a ‘good life’ looks like to me, how much power I have, what makes sense to me, how I communicate, how people understand me and what I have to offer the world.

In the disability system, one of the ways in which this gets explored is through what we call ‘Highly Individualised Support’ – otherwise known as Positive Behaviour Support.

The activity cards below have been developed to generate conversations about positive behaviour support and restrictive practice. They are based on contemporary disability practice and align with the NDIS Quality & Safeguard Commission’s Regulated Restrictive Practice Guides.

These cards are adapted from the Strong Families Practice Activity Cards, cultural adaptation from the original Microboards Australia 'Is there a Better Way' (ITaBW) card set. You can find out more about ITaBW here

These activity cards can be used by, and with anyone who wants to think about Restrictive Practices.

  Watch the video below to see how to use the card sets.                                                 Click on the images below to download the card sets.

WAiS, in partnership with Jackson MacDonald Lawyers, developed two resources for disability support organisations to better understand and manage potential legal risks associated with implementing restrictive practices for the person, the supporter, the service provider and the Behaviour Support Practitioner.

It is important to note, this information also includes references to the Western Australian Department of Communities, Authorisation of Restrictive Practices in Funded Disability Services Policy and is current as at November 2023.

Please email us if you would like a copy


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