How to Handle Challenging Behaviors - Life.Church Leaders

How to Handle Challenging Behaviors

Teens with disabilities, differences, and special needs may display behaviors that are difficult to understand or manage. The students who need extra support come from many different backgrounds, with many different abilities and challenges. We want every student to know what’s expected of them, to feel safe and supported, and to be able to participate in Switch programming as much as possible. With a few new tools and strategies, you’ll be able to better handle challenging situations.

All behavior is communication, so let’s learn to look past the behavior to what the student is trying to convey to you. Try to figure out if the student is trying to meet a need, such as a need for some control, for comfort, for retreat from embarrassment, for sensory stimulation, for sensory retreat, or for relief from boredom. There are many needs that may present themselves as unusual, perplexing, or downright challenging behaviors. Take a look at some of them and prepare yourself with some strategies to redirect or encourage behaviors that are more appropriate.


“NO!” It’s a powerful word. Some of our students who have various disabilities, differences, and special needs seldom get to have freedom over the choices they make. Here are some things to try to avoid defiance or redirect it when it begins to surface.

Wandering Off or Running Away

Sometimes a student will wander off out of boredom or because they’ve forgotten what’s expected of them in the moment. Sometimes it’s because of sensory discomfort or social anxiety. Work through the strategies below to help your student stay where they’re supposed to be.

Inappropriate Touching

Your student may not have the same feelings about personal space as others. If a student you’re working with really likes to hug, lean on, or touch others, you will need to work with them to create boundaries.

Inappropriate Language

What if the Challenging Behavior Doesn’t Go Away?

Give it time. Get to know your student, and connect with other Switch Support leaders. You’ll find new ways to help your student engage less often in behaviors that aren’t appropriate at Switch while having fun and learning about God’s love for them. If you become frustrated or are struggling to keep calm, neutral, and friendly when challenging behaviors pop up, get help from another Switch Support leader or staff member.