Education and Support in School

Many children with PDA will start their education in Mainstream School. PDA is a spectrum, which means that children with PDA can be affected to either a greater or lesser extent than other children with the same profile of ASD. This can also be variable at various times in their lives.

Therefore, the amount of extra support a child will need in school will depend on their individual presentation of PDA, and the degree to which they are affected by their condition at different stages of their life.

​The information below relates to the current legislation and guidance applicable to England. If you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland the process may be slightly different according to the individual codes of practice that are relevant for different areas of the UK.

Duties of school and local authorities to children and young people with special educational needs and disability (SEN/D)

Schools and local authorities have a legal duty to ensure that they identify and support the special educational needs (SEN) of children for whom they are responsible.

Part 3 of the Children and Families Act 2014 places legal duties on Local Authorities (LAs) to identify and assess the special educational needs (SEN) of children and young people for whom they are responsible. LAs become responsible for a child/young person in their area when they become aware that the child/young person has or may have SEN. They must then ensure that those children and young people receive a level of support which will help them “achieve the best possible educational and other outcomes” – Section 19 (d).

​It is a common misconception that a child requires a medical diagnosis of a specific disability before a school or local authority should identify, assess and support a child’s SEN. Chapter six of the Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years, January 2015, deals with the actions that mainstream schools (i.e. mainstream state schools and mainstream Academies) should take to meet their duties in relation to identifying and supporting children with SEN.

For further information please see:

Special education provision should be matched to the child’s identified SEN. Children’s SEN are generally thought of in the following four broad areas of need and support. If your child has ASD with a profile of PDA your child may have SEN in all four of these areas!

  • Communication and interaction
  • Cognition and learning
  • Social, emotional and mental health
  • Sensory and/or physical needs

These areas of SEN/D are explained in more detail in the Special educational needs and disability code of practice: 0 to 25 years, January 2015 (chapter 6 points 6.28 – 6.35)

Requesting support in school

If you feel that your child has SEN and requires additional support in school, arrange an appointment with your child's school SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) to discuss your concerns. Request that your child is named on the school's SEN Register and ask for an Individual Education Plan (IEP), sometimes known as a (Personal Provision Map) to be completed for your child. (IEP’s should be reviewed termly to see if the child is reaching their targets).

It would be helpful if you were to pass on information, detailing the recommended interventions and handling guidelines for children with PDA specifically for teachers, and share these with the school SENCO during your appointment. Inform school staff that these are the strategies that are beneficial for your child and are therefore the most appropriate to support your child’s needs.

Useful information and resources to share with your child’s school can be found in the following areas of our website.

What if school don’t understand my concerns because my child masks in school?

It is very common for children with the PDA profile, as with other profiles of ASD, to mask and camouflage their difficulties and anxieties with different people and at different times e.g. at school. We have provided information for teachers about ‘masking’ in our Teachers Guide to Understanding PDA which would be useful to print off. This guide is also available in a shorter format, as a leaflet, which you can download from our education resources.

Other professionals and agencies

The school may arrange for your child to be seen by other professionals and agencies to obtain the correct advice and support to meet all your child’s needs.

Below is a list of other professionals your child's school can make referrals to:

  1. Inclusion Support Team​
  2. Speech and Language Therapist
  3. Occupational Therapist (Sensory Difficulties or Motor Skills)
  4. Paediatrician
  5. Educational Psychologist
  6. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Team
  7. Social Services (Children’s Disability Team)

Remember, parents can write letters directly to the above professionals asking for support for their child too. 

Education, health & care assessments

What is an Education, health and care assessment?

Local Authorities have a clear duty to assess a child or young person’s education, health and care needs where they may have SEN and they may need special educational provision to be made for them at a level or of a kind which requires an assessment of a child or young person’s education, health and care needs. 

Who can request an EHC assessment?

An EHC assessment can be requested by the school, college, the parents for children age 0-16, and in the case of young people age 16-25 they can make the request themselves if they understand it sufficiently well themselves – otherwise the parent can make the request on a young person’s behalf. 

​An EHC request can be made when:

  • A child or young person has a learning difficulty or a disability which is holding them back at school or college; and
  • The parents of the child or the young person (or the young person themselves) believe that the school or college is not able to provide the help and support which is needed,

If a parent, young person or a school/college asks the Local Authority (LA) to carry out an EHC needs assessment then the LA must respond to the request within 6 weeks saying if they will or will not carry out the assessment.

If the LA refuse the request for an EHC assessment, the parent/young person must be informed and has the right to challenge this decision via mediation or to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Please see the ‘Challenging Decisions’ section of this article for further information.
This information has been adapted from IPSEA, for more detailed information please see:

Education, health and care plans

An EHC plan can only be issued after a child or young person has gone through the process of an EHC needs assessment. At the end of that process, the local authority has to make a decision, either to issue an EHC Plan or not.
If the LA refuses to issue an EHC plan, the parent/young person must be informed of the reasons and that they have the right to appeal to challenge this decision via mediation or to appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal. Please see the ‘Challenging Decisions’ section of this article.
If the decision is to issue an EHC plan, the LA must first issue a draft EHC plan for the parents or young person to consider. Only at this stage will parents/young person be asked to name the type of school/college they want e.g. mainstream or special school and the individual school/college they want to have named in the EHC plan. The local authority can only refuse to name the parent’s or young person’s choice of school if one of the following exceptions applies.

  1. ​The school or other institution is unsuitable for the age, ability, aptitude or special educational needs of the child or young person;
  2. The attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the provision of efficient education for others;
  3. The attendance of the child or young person would be incompatible with the efficient use of resources.
This information has been adapted from IPSEA, for more detailed information please see: 

Eligibility for school transport - useful information on home to school transport is available from Contact - for families with disabled children.


What is the right school placement for my child with PDA?

Children with PDA may be catered for in a full range of educational placements that are available either within your county or in a neighbouring county, please see below:
  • Mainstream Schools (most children with PDA will need some extra support via a Teaching Assistant and/or small group work)
  • Mainstream with “Resource Unit” (usually ASD resource unit)
  • Alternative Provision
  • Local Authority Special School
  • Independent School (small class numbers)
  • Independent Specialist School   
  • Specialist Residential School (38 week or 52-week placements)
Some children with PDA may benefit from a mainstream placement with the correct support, but other children may benefit from a specialised placement. Ultimately, choosing the correct school for any child is very much dependant on the individual needs of the child concerned.

When searching for the right educational placement for your child the flexibility, attitude and creativity of the school’s Head Teacher and Staff will also be a crucial factor to consider. Don’t be afraid to ask the Head Teacher lots of questions, have a few visits to the school and make sure they understand the needs of children with Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome or they are willing to attend PDA specific training. 

Options for children who are unable to attend a school or college placement

Some children or young people cannot be educated in a school or college and may need to be educated at home or elsewhere. ​This may be an option when a child is so anxious that they become a school refuser.

Education otherwise than at school

If the LA is satisfied that it would be “inappropriate” for the child or young person to be educated at school or college, they can arrange for any special educational provision which the child or young person requires, to be delivered somewhere other than in a school, college or early years setting – and the LA would then be responsible for continuing to secure and fund that provision. (This is often known as “education otherwise”.)

Elective home education

This is different to the situation where a parent and local authority decides to choose Education Otherwise than at School. This is a choice the parent is able to make if they want to home school their child.  However, in these circumstances, a LA would not have a legal duty to secure any special educational provision which is specified in the child’s EHC plan, because the parents would be making their own suitable alternative arrangements.

School refusal

This can be a common issue and area of concern for many children with PDA. If your child is school refusing due to school phobia, anxiety or depression, this should be treated as either a health or / and a SEN need.

However, if your child is not currently attending school because the school cannot meet your child’s SEN the school and/or your local authority should be looking to provide the correct provision as soon as possible.

In both cases this should not be viewed as a case of truancy and parents should not be prosecuted for their child’s non-attendance at school.  In such cases it is the duty of the local authority to provide an alternative education that is suitable to meet the child’s needs. In the case of school refusal, due to health needs, this should begin 15 days following the period when school refusal has begun.

The National Autistic Society provide information that can help both parents and others understand why school can be so anxiety provoking for some children on the spectrum, how this can lead to school refusal and strategies to try. Please Note that these strategies may need considerably adapting for a child with the PDA profile of ASD.

We are often contacted by parents who believe they are being prosecuted unfairly because:

  • The reason for the child's non-attendance is because they are too ill to attend (for example, if they have school based anxiety etc.); or
  • Because they consider the school is not suitable for their needs

Often in these cases, the local authority is issuing proceedings in situations when they should actually be providing education outside of school (for example if there is evidence to show your child is too ill to attend). Simpson Millar, Solicitors

First Steps

  • Make regular contact with the school via email and telephone to keep them updated about the situation, and keep a log of your communications with details relating to the content of phone calls.
  • Contact your GP to discuss your child’s mental health, request a doctor’s note for your child’s absence from school and ask for your child to be referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • Provide the school with information on PDA and the most appropriate handling strategies. 
  • Request that the school provide a couple of hours of support within the home either weekly or daily depending on the child’s tolerance to cope.
  • This support should ideally be centred around relationship building around the child’s interests as opposed to direct teaching of the national curriculum. 
  • As a next stage it may be possible to encourage the child to spend small amounts of time in school during very quiet periods e.g. at the end of the day, allow this suggestion to remain flexible and within the child’s control. 
  • It may then be possible to build up to more regular attendance in small incremental steps. 
  • Simultaneously apply for an Education, Health and Care assessment to have your child’s needs more accurately ascertained and quantified to meet his/her needs with the correct provision.

​Further reading and support - school refusal / phobia

  • A guide to supporting a child who is struggling to attend school is written by a doctoral student and contains a summary of information from policy documents, the law, clinical evidence and professional guidance from fields of health, education and social care. This guide is aimed at parents and professionals. 
  • The Focus Report: learning lessons from complaints ‘Out of school…….out of mind? Local government ombudsman’ provides detailed information regarding circumstances when children may be out of school and the duties of local authorities.
  • PDA Guidance – school refusal provides detailed advice of what parents should do if their child is school refusing and what the duties of local authorities are regarding supporting them during this period.
  • School Refusal Support Services is an unincorporated organisation run by a committee of parents of school refusal children.  Their mission is to empower parents of school refusal children and to provide a platform to meet others, share experiences and learn.

Challenging decisions

If you are unhappy with any decisions made during the process of securing the correct support for your child you can challenge and appeal these decisions. For further information about this process please see:

Further information – securing support in school

Our support and advice resource provides links and signposts to free services that specialise in SEN and offer free legal advice and support to parents across the UK.
Education Equality was established to provide supportive, frank and independent information for families of those with special educational needs. N.B. this is not a free service but fees are on a sliding scale based on income.

​The National Autistic Society also provide useful factsheets relating to various aspects of education across the UK.

Further reading and information about PDA

Further information about PDA can be found in the following areas of our website:

The National Autistic Society also provide an increasing amount of information about PDA.

Please note that the PDA Society are not making any recommendations nor is responsible for the content of sites and links that are external to the PDA Society.

Please contact us if you discover any broken links.