Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Contextualizing Distress

Understanding Challenging Behaviour as a Product of Resistance in the Intellectual Disability Community

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2021), 15, (3), 269–286.


The intellectual disability community faces ongoing emotional abuse, neglect, condescension, and removal of autonomy. By considering the instances of physical violence that are perpetuated by this community as the product of long-term experiences of cultural, structural, and physical violence, we are able to reconfigure the role of challenging behaviour. This reconfiguration has the capacity to revolutionize our understanding of how legitimate political discourse is presented. Rather than arguing for the legitimacy of violence, the article argues that acts of challenging behaviour from people with intellectual disability are acts of political expression. This argument is made by drawing from the context in which people with intellectual disability are situated in Western liberal democracy, with specific reference to evidence that this community experiences violence, emotional abuse, neglect, and high governance from non-disabled supporters over long periods of time, often across their lifetime.

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Author details

Zirnsak, Tessa-May