Elective home education - helpful approaches & resources for PDA
This resource consists of helpful approaches and resources to support parents who are home educating PDA children and young people. For general guidance and legislation about elective home education (EHE) in the UK please visit the relevant government website for your country below …
… and organisations such as Educational Freedom, Education Otherwise, Home Education Scotland and Home Education Northern Ireland also offer information, guidance and support to home educating families in the UK (including the deregistration process). Other national and local home education support groups can be found online and on Facebook too and can be invaluable as a support network (groups suggested to us are listed below, under resources).
PDA Home Education is a third party run Facebook group specifically for people who are (or are considering) electively home educating a PDA child. It’s a helpful forum for sharing ideas and experiences and for supporting each other.
The suggestions below are not exhaustive; there are no limits on the way learning can be achieved when you electively home educate and home education can look very different from family to family and person to person so it’s important to remember that what might work for one family or child/young person may not work for another. It’s about finding what works for each individual and tailoring the education to them personally.
You can approach this in any number of ways, and we’ve summarised some PDA-friendly ideas below. It may be that your child prefers just one type of approach or a mixture depending on the subject matter, and the approach they prefer may change over time too, so, adaptation, flexibility and listening to their preferences are key.
PDA children and young people need to see a meaningful purpose to learning something and tend to thrive when they’re free to follow what they are passionate or inquisitive about or when something becomes relevant or useful to their lives. Following your child’s lead and interests is therefore always a helpful basis for any approach.
It’s also helpful to think about and accommodate your child’s individual learning style …
- When do they learn best?
This might not be during typical school hours and it’s helpful to make sure they have opportunities to learn when they want to/can (whether spontaneously or planned) and to build in plenty of ‘downtime’
- Where do they learn best?
Is this at home, inside, outside, a particular room or place of interest, in the car etc? Learning can take place anywhere including in informal settings. Your child may like to learn in a variety of different settings, or they might benefit from a designated learning space. It’s important to ensure the environments support their sensory needs too
- What are the best resources and tools they learn with?
Do they prefer books, worksheets, games, technology, visuals, online resources, quizzes or hands-on experiences etc?
- Who are the best people they learn with?
Is there a family member, a friend or other people who they work well with? Or do they learn best on their own?
- How do they learn best?
Are they active and need to burn up some energy in order to learn? Do they work best with multiple inputs to facilitate concentration (e.g. music/TV on in the background)? Are they a hands-on learner or do they learn from observing what’s happening around them even if not participating?
- What are their strengths and skills?
Tapping into your child’s personal learning style and working from their existing strengths and skills will have a positive impact on learning.
Self-directed, autonomous & natural learning
Many PDA children and young people who are home educated prefer to be self-taught (autodidactic) and/or learn naturally through everyday experiences because direct or formal teaching approaches can intensify avoidance and rapidly escalate their ‘fight, fight, freeze’ response. Some key pointers around this approach include:
- be a ‘facilitator’ in your child’s learning rather than their ‘teacher’ (i.e. provide the resources, opportunities and experiences they need to follow their interests and learn)
- learning opportunities can be found in everyday situations (e.g. low-key discussions and hands-on experiences)
- many skills can be developed at the same time whilst enjoying a single activity (i.e. cooking can involve, science, maths, reading, fine motor and organisation skills) – see below for more ideas
- value the importance of non-academic learning and life skills too
“I have found that trusting my children to learn is key. It is such a big jump from 'they must be taught' to letting them discover how to learn themselves but my son learnt to read because he needed to, to understand his computer games. The skill is transferable - it doesn't matter if he learns to read with Minecraft or Biff, Chip and Kipper! Someone described it as lighting a fire not filling a bucket …” – Claire (home educating parent of a PDA child)
Learning collaboratively on a one-to-one basis or in a small group with trusted people can work well for some PDA children/young people. If your child would like to learn in this way, some key pointers include:
- form an equal and collaborative relationship whereby you work and learn together
- incorporate a meaningful activity or personal interest – see below for ideas
- visual prompts or demonstrations can help to indirectly communicate instructions
- third parties can help to de-personalise demands (e.g. “the cookery book says …”)
- leaving out a few activities your child can choose from can work well
- be flexible and adapt when needed
Curriculum or free-flowing
Elective home education doesn’t have to replicate school or follow a specific curriculum, timetable or time frame and the flexibility of a more free-flowing approach to education, where learning opportunities are found in the moment, can work really well for PDA children/young people. Some helpful pointers include:
- think about all the ways you learn and expand your skills and knowledge in everyday life as an adult – the same principle can be applied to your child’s education
- join your child in their activities and interests and help them get the most out of everyday experiences
- look out for opportunities to indirectly help them expand on their existing knowledge/skills or introduce new ideas (e.g. share another perspective or ask an “I wonder” question out loud)
- collaborate to find solutions/ways to do things
- go with the flow when your child is ready or interested to learn something and follow their pace/keep it casual/no pressure
If your child would like to follow a curriculum or aspects of one, some helpful pointers include:
- design a personalised curriculum with your child or collaborate to adapt an existing curriculum
- look at the range of online platforms, resources and learning game website available to see if any appeal to your child (many offer a free trial and/or discount for home educators)
- themed projects or unit studies that are tied into a current interest can work well – see below for ideas
- being flexible is key and it’s important to ensure your child maintains a sense of choice and ownership if opting for this approach
“We've had success in the past with a nature-based curriculum where we followed the seasons and did activities based on that throughout the year, but her best learning has been self-directed through games, reading, YouTube, conversations etc.” – Katie (home educating parent of a PDA child)
Exams are not compulsory for electively home educated children and young people but your child can choose to do them as a private candidate if they wish – there’s more info on the Educational Freedom website (including links to exam boards).
If and how you record progress is up to you and your child. Records of work/activities/knowledge (e.g. photos, scrapbooks, written notes etc.) can help demonstrate progress and evidence skills and learning, but they aren’t essential. The most important thing is that your child is progressing, and you can look for signs of this through the interactions, conversations and activities they take part in.
Below are some ideas to consider and some examples of how your child’s interests can be used to broaden their knowledge and learn naturally about other topics. All interests have learning elements and it can be really motivating to engage and join in with your child’s enthusiasm - building their self-esteem and your relationship in the process - and learn together as it is highly likely they can teach you something!
Computer games: many skills can naturally develop through gaming - for example: reading instructions to progress through the game; spelling and typing in chat, commands or code; critical thinking, cause and effect, hand-eye co-ordination, interacting with people etc. Please see our online gaming page for further information including links to helpful websites and articles and a three-part video series by Max Toper, a young autistic adult with a PDA profile, about his experiences of the gaming world.
Famous people/characters: an interest in famous people or characters can lead to your child looking into the person’s place of birth (geography); culture (history); fashion (design technology); factual information (general knowledge) and so on. You can help facilitate this learning which could be used to create a written biography or spoken presentation of the person if your child wishes.
Sport: data around league tables, results and player stats etc. can be used to develop maths skills.
Dogs (and other animals): if you or someone you know has a particular breed, your child could send its DNA for analysis (science); research the breed, what they were used for (history); where they came from (geography); how they came to exist (biology); write about them (English); working out fractions and percentages of different breeds and then make graphs and pie charts (maths, IT); and draw them (art).
A favourite film: could lead into some art-based project or writing about the characters with maybe a focus on adjectives etc.
Learning through everyday activities: cooking for example covers reading recipes or packets; writing shopping lists; adapting a recipe not only gives your child a choice and a feeling of control but develops their problem solving and independence skills; maths and science concepts are also covered.
Novelty: leaving new resources lying around for your child to see rather than showing them can spark their curiosity and the novelty of something different can inspire them to find out more. If they show an interest, it’s best to go with it straight away if you can, as otherwise you may lose that moment and learning opportunity.
Science experiments: younger children especially may love the idea of science experiments. Guiding them into researching and watching YouTube clips on science experiments can lead to them creating their own experiments. A goal might be to help them experience a wide range of scientific exposure within their areas of interest.
- breaking tasks into smaller chunks and doing the work together can be a successful approach
- weave regulating tasks and activities throughout the day to help soothe the nervous system
- consider what you can do outside to aid in getting fresh air - if your child resists, try finding a way to involve their interests e.g. use their iPad to take unusual, silly photos or go on a treasure hunt
- explore the possibility of joining a local home education group which can be a safe place to socialise
- monitor anxiety and tolerance levels and take time/days off when needed to help reduce any anxieties that may be building up
Interoception is one of our 8 senses: it’s our ability to notice our body’s signals, understand their meaning and react in an effective way. Many neurodivergent individuals have differences in interoceptive awareness, which underpins many of our emotions and behaviours. The Department for Education in South Australia has a range of helpful, free resources on applying interoception skills to learning, including this Ready to Learn Booklet and Kelly Mahler's website is also very informative. Please see below for more resources.
Remember the PANDA
Our PDA Panda ambassador symbolises helpful approaches for PDA and the P A N D A mnemonic on our infographic provides a useful summary. Keeping these in mind in every aspect of supporting your child, including in their education, is essential for positive outcomes.
The resources available to home educating families are many and varied - this section aims to be a "hub" for families who are home educating PDA children and young people to find and share ideas. If you have any suggestions for helpful links please do let us know …
Some of these ideas may need a little PDA/personal adaptation (see above for further ideas on this) and please consider carefully if a resource will suit your child – everyone’s different so not all the resources listed here will suit everyone.
Blogs, case studies, groups & articles
PDA & home education
- Me Just Me - Chloe is a home educated PDA teen
- PDA Home Education (Facebook group)
- 15 ways Adopt Me in Roblox can help teach kids new skills – PDA Parenting
- A note on education – Notes on PDA
- A note on learning to write – Notes on PDA
- Helen's story - PDA in families and deciding to home educate
- Online gaming page - helpful websites and articles about online gaming and screen time and a new three-part video series by Max Toper, a young autistic adult with a PDA profile, about his experiences of the gaming world
Other helpful links (not PDA specific)
- Happiness is here
- Educational Freedom
- Education Otherwise
- Home Education Scotland
- Home Education Northern Ireland
- In charge of their own lives - Naomi Fisher in SEN Magazine on how children with SEND can thrive with self-directed learning
- Scottish Home Education Forum (website), Facebook page and Facebook group
Free and existing resources
It isn’t necessary to invest lots of money in specific resources for home educating your child, there are lots of free resources available and it’s possible to use and adapt the things you already have around such as games, puzzles, technology, Apps the internet, places of interest, libraries, YouTube tutorials TV/films/music, arts and craft material, people etc.
- Lots of free third party resources are listed on our Coronavirus support pages including
- education resources
- activity ideas
- fun challenges
- ebooks, news, audio books, virtual tours & online talks
- speech, language, communication & SEND resources
- sensory & OT activities and resources
- PDA Society advisor Clare Truman (Spectrum Space) has kindly put together a range of ideas for learning at home and information and ideas for using the DFE Functional Skills subject content in a home education context.
The following list is a mixture of other free and paid for resources. Many paid for platforms and services offer a free trial and/or discount for home educators and there are discount groups you can search for on Facebook which arrange group subscription discounts.
Online learning platforms & Apps
- Teach your monster to read – free online game
- Ed Place
- Reading eggs
- Literacy Planet
- The Maths Factor - Carol Vorderman
- Purple Mash - 2simple.com
- Python in Pieces - 2simple.com (coding)
- Free Online Games that help make Reading Fun
- Table Fables | Easy & fun way for children to learn Times Tables (7 day free trial)
Projects/unit studies, printables & teaching ideas
- Topic Teach
- Exploring Nature with Children
- Origami Organelles – a new way to teach science
- Oaka Books
- Twinkl (free and paid for resources)
- Teachers pay Teachers
- The School Run
- Tes – teaching resources
- BBC Terrific Science (free)
- Skills Builder Home Learning Hub
- Learning Under Lockdown (free)
- British Red Cross PSHE resources (free)
- Printable books for early reading (free)
- Maths For Life
- Gaia Learning (free and paid for resources and courses)
- Wonder Quest – free Minecraft YouTube series
- Letterbox Lab
- Mysteries in time
- Paddington’s postcards – learn about the world with Paddington Bear (Unicef)
Live online classes/tuition/mentoring
- Gaia Learning - flexible online tuition (first lesson is free). Free resources also available
- MindJam - online one-to-one emotional support and guidance for children and adolescents through gaming and game design
- National curriculum - GOV.UK
- Spectrum Space – bespoke distance learning
- Exploring Nature with Children
- Transition to employment toolkit by Ambitious about Autism is a toolkit to support autistic young people into their first experiences of employment, further education or training
- Applying interoception skills in the classroom (education.sa.gov.au)
- Ready to Learn Booklet (education.sa.gov.au)
- Healthy Possibilities videos for teaching interoception
- Positive Partnerships interoception resources including free webinars
- Printable Resources | Kelly Mahler
- Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System | Facebook Group