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Inappropriate Behaviour & Disinhibition

Disclaimer: This information sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

What is disinhibited behaviour?

Generally during development, children learn to hold back certain responses and behaviours that are not appropriate for a situation. Following a brain injury, there may be damage to the parts of the brain that contribute to a child's ability to control their own behaviour and they may say things or behave in ways that are not acceptable. Although children, and particularly adolescents, may sometimes behave in ways that seem inappropriate to others, following a brain injury the degree of this problem may be increased, the nature of it may be different and the level of control that the child has over it, and the level of insight they have may be decreased.

Examples of inappropriate/disinhibited behaviour

  • say things that are tactless and socially inappropriate (swearing)
  • overly friendly and affectionate to strangers
  • make inappropriate sexual advances or engaging in other sexualised behaviour inappropriately (eg. masturbating in the lounge room)

Suggestions to assist a child with disinhibited behaviour

It is important to be aware that the child may not have insight that the behaviour is inappropriate.

  • If the child swears or shows disinhibited behaviour, quietly redirect the child using brief explanations to suggest how to act more appropriately
  • Provide praise and attention in response to appropriate behaviour
  • If the child has an outburst, move away from the source of frustration where possible - rather than focus on the outburst - and offer an alternative activity
  • Role playing may be useful to teach appropriate behaviour
  • Ensure a consistent approach is being used by family and school
  • Be aware of triggers that may have led to previous outbursts
  • Establish clear rules and make sure the child understands the rules, the consequences of breaking them, and also the rewards for complying with them
  • Offer alternatives and reinforce their use, such as a more appropriate place to engage in the behaviour, or a more appropriate and acceptable response to a situation

Who do I see?

If the behaviours occur frequently and are impacting on the family, referral to a Clinical Psychologist may be recommended. The clinical psychologist can develop individual strategies to modify and cope with the child's disinhibition. A program would usually involve ways to develop alternative responses as well as consequences for problem behaviours.

The Children's Hospital at Westmead Rehabilitation Department
The Children's Hospital at Westmead
Cnr Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth St, Westmead
Locked Bag 4001, Westmead, 2145
Tel: (02) 9845 2132 - Fax: (02) 9845 0685

© The Children's Hospital at Westmead - 1997-2013

This document was published on Friday, 6 June 2003

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