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Fri 26 May

It’s Not The Behaviour That Is The Challenge: Reframing Language and Questioning Our Perspectives

9.30am - 1.00pm


€10 IASW members/€40 non-members

This CPD event has been created by the Social Workers in Disability (SWID) SIG of the IASW.

Participants will hear from Amanda Mc Guinness, Malcom “Mac” MacLachlan and Dr Toby Sachsenmaier.

Amanda will speak to her lived experience as an Autistic individual growing up in Ireland. She will speak reflectively to the misunderstandings she experienced and the sometimes-negative judgments that were made about her as an unidentified Autistic child and teen. Finally, she will discuss the positive advocates who helped her be accepted as her true self and she will discuss the wonderful resources available at AsIAm to support Autistic people and their families.

The presentation will challenge the negative language of behaviour and how our practices can reflect the language we use. The presentation will prompt us to re-situate practice within an affirming neurodiversity framework and consider how our practices can promote an inclusive and accepting society. 

Toby will critically examine how our understanding of behaviour has changed over time and how our responses to concerning behaviours have not adequately reflected the perspectives of children or their families. Informed by contemporary research on neurodevelopmental differences, she will introduce Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. This evidence-based model keeps families at the centre when helping children with concerning behaviour. The presentation will prompt us to reconsider our lens and shift the focus from behaviours to problems, which enables us to engage in collaborative and proactive problem-solving. She will give an overview of the interdisciplinary CPS pilot project being implemented across 9 CDNTs and the potential for the model to transform practices in Ireland. 

After the presentations, there will be opportunity for active discussion and debate as we consider their implications for social work practice. 


The idea for this event developed from the Social Work sub group of the Disability Advisory Group (DAG). We are one of seven HSCP Advisory Subcommittees of the (DAG) to the National Clinical Programme for People with Disability (NCPPD) along with a variety of stakeholders. Our role is to:

  1. To provide clinical and discipline-specific leadership, guidance and expert knowledge relevant to the needs of the DAG and NCPPD.
  2. To promote engagement and buy-in from their specific professional communities and colleges in relation to disability matters and aims of the NCPPD.
  3. To promote cross-college, cross-programme and cross-discipline work relevant to achieving the aims of the NCPPD and addressing the needs of persons with disability.

Several SWID members are part of this sub group, where the area of behaviour, approach to supporting people with different behaviours and the language used was being explored. The growing awareness of neurodiversity in society, can be harnessed to reflect the human rights of everyone and particularly, those whom we wish to support and learn more from. The event aligns with social work values by critically examining what it means to support people.  Specifically, the event will encourage a position that there is no one "right" way of thinking or engaging in everyday life.  This will shift the goals of intervention from “fixing” the behaviour, to encouraging opportunities for diverse means of human expression in the promotion of personal wellbeing. In summary, the primary outcome of the training event will be building the capacity of professionals to challenge stereotypes and engage with alternative understandings and approaches to the behaviours of the children and adults we support.

 Event Learning Aims:

  • To have a greater understanding of how behaviours are part of the whole person and an intrinsic component of personal wellbeing
  • Challenge the negative language of behaviour and situate practice within a neurodiversity framework
  • To increase the knowledge and skills of practitioners to support people with complex behaviours



Amanda Mc Guinness

Amanda Mc Guinness is an Autistic Advocate and an Autism & Visual Supports Specialist. She is a Law Graduate and is currently undertaking a Master of Childhood Speech Language and Communication Needs at University Galway. Amanda is a Training Officer at AsIAm and her areas of specialism include Neurodiversity, Visual Supports, Autistic Identity & Culture, Autistic Masking, Autistic Communication, and Autistic Lived Experience Education. She has extensive experience supporting Autistic children and their families.


Malcom “Mac” MacLachlan  

Mac is Professor of Psychology and Social Inclusion, and Co-director of the ALL (Assisting Living & Learning) Institute at Maynooth University, Ireland. From 2020-2023 he was the inaugural Clinical Lead for the National Clinical Programme for People with Disabilities (NCPPD) in the HSE (Irish Health Service).

Previous appointments include holding a Personal Chair in Global Health at Trinity College Dublin, and being Head of the Department of Psychology at the University of Malawi.  Mac has also held visiting professorships at the universities of Stellenbosch, Olomouc and Harvard. He has worked as clinical psychologist, academic, organisational consultant and policy adviser in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America; with government, civil society, industry and United Nations agencies.

Mac was  Research & Innovation Lead for WHO’s Global Collaboration on Assistive Technology (GATE) programme. From 2014-2019 he was Knowledge Management Lead for the United Nations’ Partnership for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD). He is a Fellow of the Psychological Society of Ireland, the British Psychological Society, and the Rehabilitation & Engineering Society of North America; and a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He is the recipient of a number of awards, including the American Psychological Association’s International Humanitarian Award (2014), the Royal Irish Academy’s Gold Medal for Social Science (2017) and the British Psychological Society's Award for Promoting Equality of Opportunity (2018).   

Mac has led a number of international research consortia and is currently the overall PI and Co-lead of the Smart & Healthy Ageing through People Engaging in Supportive Systems (SHAPES) project (; working with 36 partners, across 14 European, and funded to 21m Euro.

Having retired from 20 years as a part-time farmer he is paying back his carbon debt - between air miles and livestock emissions - with broad-leaf trees planted on perfectly good grazing pasture; much to his neighbours’ dismay. For relaxation he sails, cycles, swims & watches the grass grow :)


Dr Toby Sachsenmaier

Toby is a Senior Clinical Psychologist, and chairs the Psychology Subcommittee of the Disability Advisory Group (DAG). After achieving a PhD in Child Clinical Psychology and Law, she spent 30 years working as a psychologist in the US and Ireland, the last 15 of them in a Children’s Disability Team in Clare. Her special interest in children with concerning behaviour developed in recent years in response to the increasing numbers of children presenting with behavioural concerns, and the increased severity and impact. She became worried that many of these children seemed to bounce between services, undergo multiple assessments, and some of them did not improve even when provided with support and intervention. In particular, she noticed that the behavioural methods she and many others were trained in did not always lead to improvement, and some children seemed to get worse. Frankly it was a bit dispiriting. She reviewed current research on factors that influence children’s behaviour, and looked at new ways to help them and their families. This brought her to the work of Dr Ross Greene, who wrote a book called The Explosive Child, and she quickly found that by challenging her underlying assumptions about concerning behaviour, she was able to understand the child-specific problems that led to behaviour, and help children and parents collaborate to solve those problems. Toby found that using Dr Greene’s model, called Collaborative & Proactive Solutions (CPS), resulted in reduction in concerning behaviour, more cooperation, and reduced stress in family homes. She pursued advanced training in CPS, becoming a certified provider and trainer. She was supported and championed in this by a now-retired Head of Service, who invited her to submit a proposal to roll out CPS on a broader basis. Happily, last year her proposal for a multi-site interdisciplinary demonstration project using CPS for the prevention of and intervention for concerning behaviour was funded in the National Service Plan. Thanks to the support of clinicians and managers at all levels, this project has now launched, and Toby recently left her clinical post to lead the CPS Project. 

Toby is a little bit jealous of Mac, and wishes she too was a part-time farmer, forester, and sailor, but she does share his interest in watching grass grow. She also loves acoustic music, cooking Mexican food, iPhone photography, and the Burren, and cannot figure out why so much of her spare time and money is eaten up by trying to complete an extension to her cottage that started during COVID.