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Staff variables associated with the challenging behaviour of clients with severe or profound intellectual disabilities


Greet Lambrechts, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Faculty of psychology and educational sciences, Vesaliusstraat 2, PO Box 3765, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium (e-mail:


Background  Previous research has identified that staff–client interactions play an important role in the origin and maintenance of challenging behaviour. Particularly, the reciprocity between staff behaviour and client behaviour has been considered a key issue. Furthermore, severe challenging behaviour has been found to elicit negative emotional reactions from staff which in turn may influence staff's behaviour. Another variable that has been associated with staff behaviour are staff's attributions regarding clients' challenging behaviour. The present study tested several hypotheses about associations between staff variables and challenging behaviour.

Method  Questionnaires were used to investigate associations between the attributions, emotional reactions and behavioural reactions of 51 staff members towards challenging behaviour of clients with severe or profound intellectual disabilities who displayed self-injurious behaviour, stereotyped behaviour and/or aggressive/destructive behaviour.

Results  Staff members reported that reactions to challenging behaviour differed according to the type of challenging behaviour. Negative emotional reactions were positively associated with challenging behaviour. Associations between emotional reactions, staff beliefs and staff reactions were inconsistent.

Conclusions  The findings suggest that there is a need to look for a better conceptualisation and assessment of the variables under investigation.