Can sensory integration have a role in multi‐element behavioural intervention? An evaluation of factors associated with the management of challenging behaviour in community adult learning disability services

Ciara McGill, Cathal Breen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Sensory integration is about how our brain receives and processes information so we can make sense of our everyday life. Behavioural interventions is a term used to describe how to teach people to increase useful behaviours or decrease behaviours that are challenging. Some people with severe learning disabilities can have behaviour that challenges and this can be difficult to manage. To manage behaviours that challenge restrictive interventions have been used such as people being given medication, or being held by others against their will. Instead of using these restrictive interventions we can use sensory strategies and a low stimulus environment which have been found to be successful in managing behaviours that challenge. Abstract: Introduction Adults with complex needs and severe learning disability present as a serious management problem within the community. Restrictive interventions are often used to manage adults with these issues, even though best practice recommends the use of positive behaviour support. Positive behaviour support involves functional analysis, but it does not specifically focus on sensory integration difficulties as a contributing factor to challenging behaviour. Methods A systematic search of the literature was completed using a range of electronic databases, an electronic search, hand search and review of reference lists. Seven relevant studies were identified. These studies were critically appraised and analysed. However, the extent of research was limited and the procedural quality variable, some distinct themes, arose. Results Out of the seven intervention studies included in this review, two studies used sensory integration therapy, three employed multi-element behavioural intervention, one utilised environmental stimulation within a multifactor behavioural intervention approach and one used sensory strategies within a structured behavioural intervention programme. The participants across the final seven papers reviewed consisted mainly of males with a high incidence of participants presenting with ASD. A range of assessment tools and outcome measures were used. Conclusions The use of restrictive intervention is still an issue in practice. Nearly all the studies reviewed stressed the issue of placing individuals with severe challenging behaviour in the community. Behavioural studies have successfully utilised sensory integration strategies within a structured behavioural format to manage challenging behaviour in a community setting for adults with a learning disability.

Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal of Learning Disabilities
Early online date29 Jan 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Jan 2020



  • autism
  • challenging behaviour
  • community care
  • learning (intellectual) disabilities

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