It is my experience, with our son, that choice and Pathological Demand Avoidance go hand in hand. So, over time, we have developed our own strategies to help us in managing PDA with choices.
Definition of choice
When you type in the word choice into google’s dictionary you get the following:
an act of choosing between two or more possibilities
“the choice between good and evil”
the right or ability to choose.
“I had to do it, I had no choice”
a range of possibilities from which one or many may be chosen.
“you can have a sofa made in a choice of forty fabrics”
“this disk drive is the perfect choice for your computer”
Managing PDA with Choices
PDA and the significance of choice became apparent when we were trying to reintegrate our son back into his secondary school. The school were, in their own words, using all the usual Autism strategies and we were using the same strategies at home and, while some worked, some really did not.
What we didn’t realise was that our son’s anxiety levels meant that he was unable to cope with demands being imposed on him. He was given a schedule, a routine, but he had no control. Rather than reduce the anxiety levels and give him comfort, it caused anxiety which, at times, resulted in explosive behaviour. On many occasions he had to be coaxed out of a bush! When the schedules were amended without him being involved, he was unable to accept them. The important discovery here, for us, was that no amount of preparing him for the change worked unless he was involved. Whether he wanted to or not, his anxiety prevented him.
Optimal number of choices
Once we realised this, we started to make amendments to the way that we managed his behaviour. We began to introduce choices. What did we find? How difficult it is!!! Have you ever tried giving alternatives for everything?
- What to have for dinner
- What time to have dinner
- When should we go shopping
- Which car to go in
- What shoes to wear
It’s completely endless and very tiring.
Anyway, giving choices had a very positive effect. We started to make progress. Then it started to go wrong again. He started to have meltdowns which we now understand to be panic attacks. Interestingly, when the meltdowns are treated as panic attacks, they are much easier to bring him out of. Now, don’t misinterpret easier for easy. They are certainly not easy.
Too many choices
Through trial and error we discovered that we were giving too many choices. For our son, the optimum number is 2. Even 3 was enough to send anxiety spiralling. This then usually involves some negotiation but, with just 2 choices in the mix, negotiation is usually manageable. Now, as I’m sure you are already aware, one size does not fit all. What works for our son will not necessarily work for you but, it might give you a basis from where to start.
You control the choices
To the untrained eye, giving choices to our son may appear that we are giving him control but, nothing could be further from the truth. We have actually been accused of handing control over to him and advised that we must take it back as a matter of urgency.
What people do not seem to understand is that we control the choices. It’s a small price to pay for reducing his anxiety levels.
By allowing a child to have a choice, they feel that they have some control over their environment. Having some control helps the child to regulate anxiety levels which is then more likely to result in a positive outcome. I must stress here the phrase more likely as, I’m sure you have discovered, there are no guarantees in life.
Word of warning
Now, we have found, to our cost, that it is extremely important to be careful about the choices that you give. They must both be acceptable courses of action.
For example, if our son were to refuse to get dressed we could say “we need you to get dressed or we will not go out”.
If not going out really isn’t an acceptable course of action, we have found that is is not a good idea to offer it as a choice. Fairly obvious I hear you say but, in the heat of the moment, words tend to flow out of our mouths. Do you find that? You must be prepared to follow the chosen course of action.
If you must go out but the time of day isn’t critical, you could try “Would it be better to go out this morning or this afternoon?” By saying it this way, you are stating that you will be going out so that is a ‘non-negotiable’ (to read more about non-negotiables, please pop over to my post entitled The 4 Absolute Rules) but, you are still giving the child an element of control. They can make a choice over when you go out.
Another way that we are managing PDA with choices is through our weekly wall planner.
We incorporate choice into our weekly planner so that, at a glance, it is possible to see what must happen and what is negotiable. Anything that is non-negotiable is written in black. If it is negotiable, it is written in blue (colour chosen by our son). This way it is very clear to our son where, during the day, he can maintain an element of control. If you would like to read more about our weekly planner and non-negotiables, please visit my post The 4 Absolute Rules.
By managing PDA with choices, we have gained much more trust from our son. The knock on effect of this is that when we do have to make a demand, it is more likely to be accepted.
The PDA Society have some great advice regarding strategies. If you’d like to know more, visit their strategies page. I have found it to be a great source of information.
Hopefully this has given you some food for thought. I would love to hear about how you incorporate choices into your strategies as I’m always looking for new ideas.
Until next time, stay strong.