Intellectual Disability Behaviour Support Program

About Us 

The Intellectual Disability Behaviour Support program works to address the research-to-policy-and-practice nexus to improve support for people with cognitive disability and complex support needs.  

The term 'cognitive disability' includes many labels - including intellectual disability, borderline intellectual disability, acquired brain injury and autism. Generally, having a cognitive disability means that a person will have difficulty with things such as self-management, decision making and communication and may experience some level of social exclusion.  


UNSW has a reputation for professional excellence in disability research. The NSW Department of Family and Community Services and its agency have both acknowledged our dedication to research in this area and provide the Program with funding. The Government has also appointed a Chair for the Program in UNSW Arts and Social Sciences. 

The program achieves excellence through the following: 

  • Consulting with key stakeholders and developing collaborative relationships with academic, government and sector agencies both nationally and internationally 
  • Leading the development and delivery of educational programs for frontline and managerial staff to support people with cognitive disability who have complex support needs and behaviours of concern 
  • Leading a research program to inform support practices for those with cognitive disability and complex support needs across the disability and community sectors 
  • Contributing to policy and practice approaches to cognitive disability support in alignment with international best practice 
  • Focusing on areas where there is a specific need to address knowledge deficits within the Australian and international context 
  • Translating knowledge emerging from the Program to ensure the work is informed by, and communicated to, a broad range of stakeholders


This is a vital time in disability services as they transition from government to non-government sectors as part of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). State and Federal reforms are an opportunity for real and lasting change in the lives of people with disabilities who have complex support needs. 

The Chair and IDBS program critically contribute to these reforms by engaging in high-level consultations, leading in the development and delivery of education and training. We work with academic, government and sector agencies in Australia and worldwide to ensure policy and practice are aligned with international best practice. 

The Chair, IDBS contributes on a number of advisory committees. These include: 

  • UNSW Disability Champion Advisory Group 
  • UNSW Inclusive Disability Research Network 
  • NSW Ombudsman, Part 3C Best Practice Working Group 
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey Advisory Group 
  • NSW Ageing Disability and Home Care Large Residential Centres & Specialist Supported Living, Transition for People with Complex Needs Advisory Group 
  • NSW Family and Community Services South East Sydney District /UNSW, Memorandum of Understanding Advisory Group 
  • NSW Ministry of Health and Ageing, Disability and Home Care, Children and Young Persons Intellectual Disability Mental Health Advisory Group 
  • The Centre for Innovative Justice (RMIT) & Jesuit Social Services, Enabling Justice for People with Acquired Brain Injury Project Advisory Committee 
  • The Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies/ Centre for Community Welfare Training, Disability Justice Project Steering Committee 
  • NSW Ageing Disability and Home Care, Behaviour Support Practice Reference Group 
  • National Complex Needs Alliance 
  • Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign Policy Reference Group 
  • NSW Department of Justice Disability Advisory Council 



As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Australian Government is working closely with the NSW Government to improve mainstream policies, programs, services and infrastructure. Our goal is to ensure people with disabilities participate as full and equal citizens in Australian society. The introduction of the NDIS is part of a national framework for major reform. 

Supporting the needs of the individual 

One of the challenges in achieving these aims involves working with people with cognitive disabilities who have complex support needs. The main challenge is empowering them to take more control over their lives.  

These support needs may relate to behaviours that may pose a risk to the quality of life or personal safety of the individual or others (known as challenging behaviour). These behaviours require the assistance of integrated services over a long period of time, including: 

  • mental health issues 
  • substance misuse 
  • family and domestic violence 
  • intergenerational disadvantage 
  • contact with the criminal justice system 

Moving from responding to symptoms and risks in finding ways to support long-term change requires innovative ways of working. We look towards innovation to achieve the ultimate goal of improving people’s lives. 

The IDBS program at UNSW is working in close partnership with Ageing, Disability and Home Care NSW (ADHC) to ensure that transition in support provision for people with complex support needs is a smooth one.