Examples of good educational practice for PDA pupils
These extracts showing good practice in education for pupils with a PDA Profile are shared with kind permission from the authors of these two books:
- Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA: Strategies for Education Professionals
- Christie et Al (2012) Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children: A Guide for Parents, Teachers and Other Professionals
Collaborative approach: Observe and listen
“When Harry first joined the school one of our biggest challenges was his explosive behaviour. Over time we have built good relationships with him and in the main we manage his anxiety well. There are still times when things get difficult, though nowadays he tends to shutdown instead. This is easier to deal with from a safety point of view. But we do not overlook the fact that, for him, the same feelings of being overwhelmed are happening. We try to make sure that staff are aware of the signals he gives out. There seems to be a pattern of escalating signs. It starts with him going a bit quiet and his shoulders sort of sink. Next, he puts his hood up and sometimes closes his eyes. This is when we really need to reach him. If we haven’t been able to he then rests his head on the table, he may push items off the table or slide under the table himself. It can take a long time, sometimes a couple of hours, to re-engage him if he reaches this point.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p65-66
Collaborative approach: Work together towards a negotiated solution
“I’m so glad that we made the time to get to know her family at the same time that we were getting to know her. During those first delicate weeks settling her into school after she had hardly been out of her bedroom for six months it proved invaluable to be able to pick up the phone regularly and discuss with her mum how we were going to manage everyday situations together that we were new to understanding.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p76
“A careful package was devised in collaboration with Neesha’s parents to ease her transition in a positive and motivating way. Initially, her class teacher made a series of short visits to her at home in order to build a relationship. These visits were sociable and flexible and were usually spent playing games or chatting. In between these visits, Neesha made some visits to her new school … After a period of three weeks, she began to come to school on a daily basis. Initially this meant arriving half an hour after other pupils in order to miss the hustle and bustle of the start of the school day, and staying just for the morning. Neesha was taught in a separate classroom with two members of rotated staff who she knew the best at this stage, and spent her time largely on activities and games which she found motivating. School staff met briefly, but daily, to evaluate progress and were in regular contact with her parents. Together they decided when to increase the time Neesha spent at school, how to extend the activities she did while there and how to include her for short periods in the classroom-based activities alongside other pupils. For example, she was encouraged to stay at school for lunch by having a cookery session at 11.30 during which she made some lunch for herself and her teacher. These decisions were taken slowly and with careful consideration. At the end of a period of three months (one school term) Neesha was integrated into a small class group and was attending full time.” Christie et al (2012), p112-113
Collaborative approach: Personalise learning experiences
“I like to have choices but not too many choices. Especially if I am stressed, having too many choices can be too much to think about… I like to have choices set out on a piece of paper that I can go away and think about before making a decision.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p124
“Dylan has a great interest in Doctor Who. In particular, he knows lots of information about the various alien enemies and their masters. This interest was used to illustrate a point about making strategic decisions and taking responsibility for them by picturing himself as a master. He will receive incoming suggestions from a number of his key advisers. They may give him good or bad advice and he may have better ideas of his own, but in the end, he has ultimate control of his own actions and choices. This gives a context to working towards taking responsibility for the consequences of those actions and choices.” Christie et al (2012), p162
Collaborative approach: Modify teaching style: be flexible, adjust expectations and be less direct
“Actually, there aren’t loads of changes the school have made but they have made a big difference. Even though the teachers still decide what I do it’s better for me to have some choices about when to do my work and whether to do it in the classroom or in the library.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p154
“[S]taff understood that [Duncan] was highly resistant to completing any task that he perceived as ’set school work’. He also avoided tasks which involved writing or working with a group of peers. He was, however, naturally very inquiring and enjoyed discussing ideas. He became interested in the Horrible Histories series of books and television programmes, especially in the Romans. He particularly liked to find out gruesome facts about how they lived and died, what they ate, their standards of hygiene, and their table manners. Within the context of relationships of trust which staff had built with Duncan, he was offered a series of ‘missions and challenges’ (rather than ’school work’) which were based on this interest. Staff let him lead the topic, sensitively facilitating his research or recording, in order to create a unit of cross-curricular work by researching and cooking Roman recipes, which he then ‘dared’ staff to taste and grade on a score chart. He did some work in social history by investigating Roman life and class structure. He carried out geographical and scientific research as well as experiments based around the theme of volcanoes. He produced art work using mosaic designs.
“Throughout these activities there was a low-key attitude, of doing things for the sake of fun not for curriculum learning. Duncan felt that he was able to guide the line of research and any ensuing projects. The role of staff was sensitively to ease his path through various investigations, taking care to keep the balance between encouraging him to stay motivated and on task on the one hand (often by doing the least favoured part of the work such as writing), while trying to stretch his co-operation and knowledge on the other.” Christie et al (2012), p118
Collaborative approach: Flexibility and accommodation
“Having tried to get her to attend school on a regular basis for nearly half a term, it was surprising how big a difference it made when we decided to ‘let go’ of lots of everyday expectations about the school day. Being able to adapt things like wearing correct uniform, lining up in the playground, basing her work on topics and games that matched her interests and being low key about homework were really important. These things made all the difference to school being a positive experience not only for her but also for the adults who were working with her.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p82
“Jenny (aged 15) had experienced a number of complicated school exclusions which had left her particularly socially isolated, nervous of new situations and very demand avoidant. She was anxious of being out in the community or of trying new activities…she was spending most of her time in her bedroom… Staff supporting her worked closely with Jenny’s family to try to encourage her to regain her confidence in going out.
“A personalised form was developed to use with Jenny to help her take some control and responsibility in planning outings. It was handwritten to make it appear less like formal school work; it allowed for some impossible fantasies in order to indulge a sense of humour as well as to reduce pressure; it allowed for a suggestion to be made which could then be shelved until another time; and it built in a ‘Plan B’ in case of emergencies or unforeseen events”. Christie et al (2012), p159-160
Collaborative approach: Minimise anxiety to maximise learning opportunities
“Andy is able to complete most of his work through his hand puppet ‘Sandy the Squirrel’. He uses Sandy to do all of his written work. Not surprisingly his handwriting is not as good as it could be because he is using Sandy as a glove but he is at last doing some written work! He slings between putting Sandy down for not being very clever, to praising Sandy very highly because other squirrels can’t write at all, let alone messily. We have had a great deal more success with co-operation and therefore with learning since Sandy came to class.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p58
“Between the ages of four and five, Ben would often exhibit anxious, unpredictable behaviour, such as running out of the classroom, throwing bricks or sand in the air or suddenly deceasing ‘I need to go’, or ‘I need juice’, which would require immediate action from the adult there… He was often completely uninterested in group activities and needed careful monitoring for his own safety and that of others…
“Once in Year 1 (ages 5-6), Ben was granted a full-time one-to-one support. The transformation began slowly, but within a year he became a very different boy. He became calmer, stopped hitting and hurting at school, and started to form several relationships with trusted peers. His teaching assistant, a very experienced support worker, created a ‘quiet’ room where Ben would work and produced individualised learning aids to help him … A home/school diary was created to ‘rate’ how Ben was achieving throughout school and this was carefully managed to boost Ben’s confidence, backed up by regular after-school treats to places he enjoyed, such as an indoor play centre, or a garden centre to see the fountains. Ben’s anxiety gradually decreased as he became more confident with his teaching assistant. She says she worked as a ‘facilitator’, helping Ben to build friendships, understand the unwritten rules of the playground and learn what was appropriate. Ben’s demand avoidance eased as staff worked pragmatically to make the classroom and the pressure easier on him. Fears about exclusion eased and school became a very positive experience, for the whole family.” Christie et al (2012), p109
Collaborative approach: Monitor, reflect and review
“There are likely to be a number of other people who know the child coming to your classroom well. This includes their family, adults who have worked with them previously and other professionals who may have identified certain aspects of their profile. Even if a child’s previous placement was not successful and you have no intention of repeating some of the strategies used there, finding out about them will give you a picture of the child’s experience of that period of their life and will help you appreciate whether there are preconceptions they may be bringing to their new setting.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p76
Collaborative approach: Be proactive: Foster emotional resilience, independence and self-reliance
“…our time together [in personal tutorials] is useful and it’s interesting…things are better for me…I used to think I was the one who should change. I don’t think that now. Now I know it’s OK just to be me.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p127
“Duncan is an articulate, curious and socially motivated child who is developing an understanding of his own strengths and difficulties. These were highlighted to him once he moved from a mainstream peer group, to a different range of other peers at the specialist school. Making sense of this was something that his specialist school and his family had anticipated, and they worked closely together to try to explain things to Duncan in a meaningful way while protecting his self-image.
“He enjoyed talking about all sorts of ‘questions and conundrums’, such as: what would it be like if everything in the world was made of chocolate? This led on to include questions such as: what if everyone was the same …?
“Duncan was able to reflect back on his experience in mainstream school and consider the differences between himself and his other peers there … He also accepted that there were times when his reactions or behaviour complicated situations … He did develop an awareness of PDA as a distinct condition, separate but fitting with the ‘autism spectrum’… When he was explaining his understanding of PDA to a member of staff, he said, ‘What’s PDA? Well the clue is in the name. It means if someone asks me to do something, I’m likely to say no…that’s me all over isn’t it?! But I’m also like a cat. It all depends on how you ask me. If you ask me in the right way, it’s like stroking a cat’s fur the way it grows. I may even purr! But if you ask me the wrong way, it’s like stroking a cat’s fur backwards. I’m likely to hiss!’”.
Christie et al (2012), p128-130
Collaborative approach: Recognise the needs of adults
“Donny shows clear preferences for certain staff members and responds well to these people. It has been crucial to build on these positive relationships as they are fundamental to helping him co-operate, negotiate, stay calm and learn. It has been important to try to widen the number of adults he is comfortable with so that the team supporting him can achieve a balance of making him feel secure whilst sharing the load of working so intensely with him. It is worth noting that common features these members of staff share are a creative, imaginative way of presenting tasks, a non-directive approach and an ability to move on from any difficult incidents without judgement.” Fidler, R. and Christie, P. (2019) p103
- Autism Education Trust: The Distinctive Clinical and Educational Needs of Children with Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome: Guidelines for Good Practice
- PDA Society education case studies
- Personalised learning for pupils with PDA - Spectrum Space case study
- PDA Society webinar Education Support & Strategies for Children with PDA - with Phil Christie & Ruth Fidler