About 2 and a half years ago (when my son was just coming up to 10), I headed off nervous and broken to a PDA society training day. I didn’t expect much but I was desperate. I had come across the term PDA (Pathological demand avoidance) while combing the National Autistic society’s website looking for clues about why my son violently refused school, had shutdown and was often unable to leave the house. I clicked the link to the PDA societies webpage and found a summery traits and there described to a T was my son. I showed my dad without saying a word who gasped ‘that is my grandson!’ I wanted to know more so I enrolled on a course that was happening a few weeks later at a venue 20 miles away.
It was a big thing for me going. Over the last few years I had become increasingly socially isolated due to my son’s reliance on me and reluctance to go out. I had become cowed and defensive due to all the finger pointing by professionals and other parents. My confidence was non existent because of my failure (as I saw it) to be able to parent my child. I had become fearful of change because of the violent outburst change caused my son.
And still I went…
I sat at the back alone. Not wanting to talk about my situation because I was ashamed. I was ashamed my son hit me, I was ashamed my son did not want to live, I was ashamed that I could not get my son to school. “Please Don’t ask me”, my body language screamed and thankfully no one did.
Then the two ladies taking the workshop started to speak (I have racked my brains for their names so I could thank them in some way but my state of mind at the time meant my dyslexic brain never took them in sadly), to my amazement they were telling my story or something very close to it.
There they were these confident, composed mothers who had lived through all I was going through. I was transfixed.
As the day went on everything fell into place. I understood why my son was struggling, why his behaviour seemed aimed at me and that I was not alone. It was like the whole weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders but there was even better to come.
After tea and biscuits, they started to talk about ways forward. Ways I could actually see might work. They described about low demand strategies, reframing demands and having the courage to leave behind the notion of traditional parenting and do what worked for your child. They introduced me to the work of DR Ross Greene and his collaborative parenting approach and the phrase ‘a child will when he can’.
There was so much information to take in but they sent us away with lots written down and emailed me the main points of the day too.
I went home and made a start,
I was tentative at first dropping only the demands I felt were absolutely unnecessary but as I started to see small changes in my son I dropped more and more. I tried to get the school and interventions service on board with the idea but as my son was diagnosed as ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and was too traumatised to speak up for himself it fell on deaf ears and in fact they accused me of trying to medicalise my son by saying he had PDA even though it was me emailing the description of it to the assessment team that lead to a diagnoses. Like so many areas you see out local authority will not recognise it and professionals therefore are afraid to mention it. I was told by the assessment team not to mention PDA as it would only muddle matters….Anyway I digress.
Getting my son to interventions became the biggest issue and was the only time meltdowns now occurred, the threats made because of my mention of PDA and the subsequent social services visit (who btw described me as an ‘exemplary parent’ ) gave me no option but to take my son off roll. This final action, this dropping of this last and massive demand proved to be the key to unlocking my son from his prison of anxiety and gradually over a few months he came back to me.
He stopped hitting out, then he stopped having meltdowns all together, he began to engage with me, then family and education and he has begun to engage with the world.
All this not because I made him but because I backed off, I gave him space, I stopped demanding it from him. These days my son is able to be the funny, engaging and happy child I always knew was there under all the stress, anxiety and trauma caused by his experiences at school and my lack of fully understanding his needs at home.
I know 100% we would not be where we are today without the PDA society.
My belief is if I had not attended that one day course my son may of attempted to take his own life or seriously harmed me, not because he wanted to but because he was misunderstood, driven in to a corner and in flight or flight mode. Professionals who have come into contact with my son since I implemented these changes have commented on the change in him and are now supportive of my approach. I will be forever grateful to the PDA society for giving me the tools to turn things around.
I have not been asked to write this blog and have no connection to the PDA society other than as a parent of a PDA child, these are all my own thoughts and feelings.
If you think your child may have PDA then do visit the pda societies website and book yourself on a course (if you are in the UK) or contact the helpline for more information.
If you want to support other families to have this life changing experience and to raise awareness for PDA for the benefit of so many please click the link below to donate if you are able.