We often hear people say things like "oh he does that because he has Down syndrome" or "everybody with Down syndrome does that". This is one of the more common misconceptions or stereotypes and it is important to be aware that it isn't fact. Nobody does anything just because they have Down syndrome.


It is important to remember that behaviour can also be considered a form of communication. We know that it is common for people with Down syndrome to have difficulty with expressive language so sometimes, when alternatives or communication supports are not provided, challenging behaviours will manifest. All behaviours have a function, and understanding the function of a person’s behaviour can enable us to better support them and to teach replacement skills that allow them to better manage their behaviour in the future. The function of a behaviour is usually to either: gain something - eg. social attention, access to activities or objects, sensory feedback OR to avoid something - eg. anxiety, demands, situations, activities. In the case of challenging or difficult behaviour, the function is generally valid but the form that the behaviour takes is inappropriate for the setting. 


Some examples of valid function and inappropriate form include:

  • A person who runs away in order to avoid an overwhelming situation.
  • A person who throws their food on the floor in order to avoid it’s texture due to sensory processing issues.
  • A person who pushes other people out of the way in order to gain access to an activity.

Rather than focus on stopping or controlling the challenging behaviour it is best to focus on encouraging desirable behaviour. The goal is to teach people to self manage by replacing an undesirable behaviour with a more appropriate one. 

There are a range of valuable tools and strategies to consider when supporting challenging behaviours. When communication is a focus it is worthwhile engaging the support of a Speech Pathologist if you have access to one. For children under 6 this could be through either the Department of Communities or Better Start. Some children over 6 years and adults may be able to access Medicare rebates for private allied health appointments under a GP Management Plan or Team Care Arrangement. Information about these programs can be found at the links below.


Research shows that people with Down syndrome have significantly better visuo-spatial short term memory spans than verbal memory spans. This means they will remember things they have seen for much long than things they have simply heard. As a result, the use of visual supports is recommended in a range of areas with a particular focus on behaviour support. DSAQ has developed a booklet that explains the principles of visual supports and gives examples of a range of tools that may be helpful. This booklet can be accessed at the link below. 



Useful Downloads and Links

Further Information and Support

For further information and support please contact the team at DSAQ on (07) 3356 6655 or at [email protected]


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