Reducing ‘Challenging’ Behavior by Training Support Staff to Promote Dignity and Respect


The occurrence of ‘challenging’ behavior is commonly documented amongst people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Since behavior is not only a form of communication, but often in response to environmental conditions, it stands to reason that one mechanism to reduce ‘challenging’ behaviors would be to draw attention to people’s environmental conditions and well-being, such as people’s physical and mental health, and lack of opportunities and exclusion, and by treating people with dignity and respect. This research study aims to explore the relationship between ‘challenging’ behavior, and dignity and respect, particularly by exploring the role support staff can play in promoting dignity and respect. We had the following research question: what is the relationship between support staff being trained to promote dignity and respect and ‘challenging’ behaviors? To explore this research question, we analyzed Basic Assurances® and ‘challenging’ behavior data from 74 human service organizations that supported 6982 unduplicated people with IDD annually. Our findings revealed that, regardless of the agency size or geographic location, when support staff were trained to promote dignity and respect and to recognize each person as a unique individual, the number of ‘challenging’ behaviors people with IDD exhibited reduced significantly. While not all ‘challenging’ behavior may be reduced by staff being trained to promote dignity and respect alone, findings from our study suggest this training may be one mechanism to reduce the incidence of ‘challenging’ behaviors, and by extension, the need for behavior intervention services which can be controversial and costly.

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Thank you to the state developmental disabilities department for their willingness to collaborate. Thank you to Mary Kay Rizzolo for reviewing this manuscript and providing feedback.

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Correspondence to Carli Friedman.

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The author declares that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical Approval

This was a seccondary data analysis of existing data. As such, our Institutitional Review Board granted an exemption from human subjects review. All applicable guidelines for the use of secondary data were followed.

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Informed consent was obtained in the initial data collection from all individual participants included in the study.

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Friedman, C. Reducing ‘Challenging’ Behavior by Training Support Staff to Promote Dignity and Respect. J Dev Phys Disabil (2020).

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  • Dignity and respect
  • People with intellectual and developmental disabilities
  • Challenging behavior
  • Outcomes
  • Social determinants of health