Would it be ok to share my top 9 tips for managing PDA in children? I hope so as it is something that I am passionate about.
Although PDA is a profile within the Autistic Spectrum, typical ASD strategies will not necessarily work.
We have discovered, from personal experience, the conflict between PDA and ASD strategies. Back in May 2017, our son was diagnosed with ASD. This was not news to us but it took us a long time to actually get an official diagnosis. We were already using typical ASD strategies, as were the secondary school that he transitioned into that year.
We couldn’t work out why the strategies weren’t working. Eventually he ended up being signed off school as everything they tried inevitably failed and the anxiety was snowballing. It was then that we discovered PDA. All of a sudden the pieces began to fit.
We have been on a huge learning curve every since. Strategies for managing PDA are so different. When you get it right, it is amazing but, because it works one day, doesn’t mean that it will work the next!
Top 9 Tips for Managing PDA in Children
Here are my 9 top tips, things that we are trying to implement into our everyday life and I hope that they give you some ideas:
Top Tip 1 – Offer choice
We have found that the Autistic side of our son’s brain needs the routine and predictability but the PDA side needs to be in control and is very good at exploiting that routine. We often have the situation whereby if our son does not want to do something and, for example, it is near snack time, he will respond with “it’s snack time”. It’s a short and simple statement but we have learnt that it is a precursor to a meltdown – this is a classic exploitation of the routine that we had implemented. Therefore, the best way that we have found to deal with this is to give 2 options. It is our experience that any more than that and he will go into overload and panic. It is just enough for him to feel that he has control – even though we have control of the choices.
Example: “Would you like to walk the dog this morning or this afternoon?” This type of approach gives our son the control that he needs. It’s letting him know that this is something that we would like to happen but that we are flexible as to when it happens.
Top Tip 2 – Be flexible
It goes without saying that things will not always go according to plan. Make sure that you always have a plan b and, above all else, be prepared to be flexible. What works one day, will not necessarily work the next but it is definitely worth returning to at a later date.
The more techniques that you can have in your toolbox, the easier things will be. When I say easy, please don’t read this as me implying that dealing with PDA is simple. It really isn’t as we have discovered but, the more options that you have available to you the greater the chances of reaching an acceptable outcome.
Top Tip 3 – Remain calm
This is something that I struggle with if I’m honest. When you are tired and stressed, it is so hard sometimes to not get cross. What I have to remember is that, usually, he will actually want to do something but the PDA is preventing him.
Example: All day our son had been bugging me for a chocolate bar and, all day, I had been saying no (on reflection the word no wasn’t my best move). Eventually, he wore me down and my words were “oh for goodness sake go and get a chocolate bar!” (I’m not very proud of this response but it demonstrates that I’m human).
Under normal circumstances a child should have been ecstatic at getting their own way but, in the case of PDA, because I’d told him to go and get one it was seen as a demand and we then had a meltdown and he wouldn’t do it. Getting cross invariably leads to sensory overload due to raised voices etc and causes upset and panic attacks.
Top Tip 4 – Reduce/Remove demands
PDA means that the person has an anxiety based need to be in control. Demands made on them raise anxiety levels because they feel that they don’t have a choice (refer to top tip 1 above). We have found that, where possible, removing non-negotiable words allows for the option of saying no. We have found that this helps to reduce anxiety by allowing the child to feel that they have an element of control. This will also mean that you are more likely to get a positive outcome when you do actually NEED to make a demand.
Example: My husband was working out in the garden and I really wanted my son to go and help him. I knew that asking him to do so would be seen as a demand and result in refusal. I simply said, in passing “I wish daddy had some help with what he’s doing out there” and then wandered off. To say that I was shocked at the result is an understatement. He simply stood up and announced that he was going to help daddy. RESULT!
Top Tip 5 – Plan, plan and plan some more (planner obsession…..)!
We tend not to do anything on the spur of the moment anymore. It has been our experience that the best way to prevent meltdowns is to make a plan. Examine all the possibilities and spot the problem areas. A trip to the shops is not as simple as simply getting into the car and going. We have to consider the time – will it clash with a meal time etc. How hot is it? Will he be able to have an open window? How long will we be? Is it going to be busy? How long will it take to actually get ready to get out of the house? We have to work backwards with our time.
Example: If we have to be somewhere at a certain time we might, for example, ask “how long do you need to get ready?” This is much less demanding and gives an element of control. We then simply work backwards to work out what time we need to start getting ready and give time checks.
Top Tip 6 – Pick your battles
We have found this to be one of the most powerful tips. You have to decide how important something actually is to you. Does it warrant the potential meltdown. We try to work on one issue at a time. This allows us to really concentrate on how we deal with it and to take note of the results. It doesn’t mean that we are ignoring the other non-desirable behaviours but, for optimum results, we have found from bitter experience that the capacity for change is limited.
Example: Sleep has always been a huge problem for us. Our son has struggled from an early age. We implemented a strict bedtime routine, thinking that that would be the answer and, to be honest, would have been for a child with ASD. They need routine. However, although the autistic side of a child with PDA demands routine, the PDA side needs to have control of the routine. This was the battle that we chose to fight for several months. To the untrained eye, it would definitely have appeared that we were ignoring the other behaviours but, during that time, we felt sleep was more important. Everything seems better when you’ve had a good nights sleep. If you would like to see the strategies that we implement, please click here to see the post.
Top Tip 7 – Choose your words carefully
When something as simple as asking a question and waiting for an answer can be perceived as a demand, it’s possible to see how careful you must be with your words. Where ever possible, avoid demand words such as need or can’t. Try making requests instead. We have quite a lot of success with “would it be ok if”, it seems to meet with a lot less resistance.
Example: avoid saying “We need to go to the shops today”. Instead try “Would it be ok if we went to the shops today?” “would you like to go this morning or this afternoon?” above all, remain flexible (see Tip 2 above)
Top Tip 8 – Use explanations and reasoning
With ASD, less information is better and you would usually employ direct, but simple instructions. However, this isn’t the case with PDA as this may well be perceived as a demand and result in refusal. We have far more success with explaining why something should be the way it is as this is perceived as negotiable.
Example: “Would it be ok to go to the shops today so that I can get some food for making lunch?” “Would you prefer to go before or after snack time?”
Top Tip 9 – De-personalise
Passing over responsibility to someone, or something else, has been a golden nugget to us. What do I mean by this? Showing that a necessary demand is not coming from you, the parent.
Example: our son is absolutely obsessive about a particular XBox game. I wont go into details about which particular game but we really do not want him exposed to it due to the contents. We’ve tried explaining why from our perspective but, the best thing we did was to say that it is rated 18 and “it would be against the law for us to buy it for you”
We have found all 9 tips for managing PDA in children to be beneficial in managing our son’s behaviour to varying degrees. Bear in mind that all children are very different and what works for us may not work for you. The best thing I can say is that everything is worth a try and all adds valuable tools to your PDA toolbox.
Our go to resources for all things PDA are the PDA Society, which is factual based, while my favourite PDA Bloggers are definitely Steph’s Two Girls and PDA Parenting which are more life based. What’s you most valuable resource? I’d love you to share it with me by posting a comment below.
Until next time, stay strong.
PS do remember, sharing is caring. Please share this post as my key aim is to raise awareness and, to do that, I would be grateful for your help.