So today is PDA Day that’s Pathological Demand Avoidance. PDA day is organised by the PDA Society each year for this little known and less understood profile of autism. Every year they give the day a theme and this years is ‘Support’, as a response I thought I would write a little about what I have found works and does not work when supporting my PDA son. I stress I am a mother not an expert and my experience is based around my child and every child is an individual.
First and foremost what I have learned is what unconditional love really means.
You see PDAers I have come to know hate falsehoods, others expectations and attempts to mould them. All of these are things that are commonly used as ‘strategies’ on children of all ages and abilities By parents and educators. Sounds awful when you put it like that doesn’t it but it is so engrained in our modern society we do t even know we are doing it, i was doing it too, before my son called me out on it by his reactions to it.
Let me explain.
In terms of falsehoods we trick children all the time, we use bribes to get them to do what we want, we add on another 5 minutes to an activity that we feel they should be doing, we turn things they enjoy into ways of teaching them the things we want them to learn.
We have huge expectations of children not just things like targets but our own hopes and dreams for them hang in the air thick with anticipated achievements. We try to mould them by our words and actions using praise to encourage the ways we want them to be and things we want them to achieve and punishment for the things we don’t. News flash none of this works with a PDAer. Not only does it not work but when you are forced to look at it in this way you begin to realise how really bad this must be for all children.
Some of the ways we justify this to ourselves is to say ‘well they have to do it or else they will never x,y, or z. More falsehoods let me just debunk a couple of things, things I have said to my own child or thought in my head. For example when my son refused to go to school I said to him;
‘All children have to go to school’ and I thought her must go to school or he won’t learn.’
Yet here he is in home education learning and not at school. I often hear parents saying things like;
‘He has to learn to live in the real world.’
But what is the real world? We may think the way we live our life is the real world but everyone’s life is different so which is the real one? Think about it. But;
‘They have get qualifications to get a job right, everyone has to get a job?’
Wrong, wrong and wrong many people have jobs without qualifications, many people work for themselves, many people decide what to do and then go and get the qualifications later or while they are doing it, with some jobs experience far outweighs qualification and… wait for it…some people don’t work at all and are perfectly happy and add value in their own way.
Learning to let go
So having let go of all that we get to the crux of how to support a PDA child and that is by loving THEM, liking THEM and understanding just who THEY really are. Only then can change our focus from us to them. You see if our child or a child in our care is not behaving how we think they should or is desirable to us we take it personally. ‘Why is he behaving like this, he has no respect for me.’ But it is not about YOU, it’s about them. So reframing what is he/she struggling with/trying to achieve? For years I went around wondering why my son would hit, why he hated me? Instead I should of wonder what was trigger these violent reaction for him.
The trouble with praise
Many PDAers don’t like praise, and it is not so much the praise as the expectation behind it and where the praise is directed. so we praise the outcome not the effort behind that outcome and implied behind the praise is an assumption that next time the child will be able to do it. So what a PDAer is hearing when you praise them for doing something is ‘there look you did it well so that is what I want you to do each time now,’ Recognition of effort made even if the goal is not reached if often better received, an example of this is my son agree to go to an appointment with me but on the day he couldn’t go. Instead of being angry I said to him, I know you wanted to come, thank you for trying, I know how hard that must of been for you.’ This way next time he is far more likely to try again because he knows it’s ok if he can’t and that I appreciate his efforts.
So to sum up there are 3 strands to supporting a PDA child
1. Relationship – ie. building a strong connection with the real them,
2. Understanding – learning who the real them and what makes them tick.
3. Acceptance – accepting that is the person they are and allowing them complete autonomy to be it.
Given these three things a PDA will thrive in their own unique way and appreciate you so much for giving them what they need, I’m fact I honestly believe any child would. Sounds simple doesn’t it? On one hand it is and on the another it is a steep learning curve.