Working with PDA – information for education professionalsPDAadmin2023-12-04T10:33:05+00:00
Information for education professionals
What is PDA?
Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is best understood as a profile on the autism spectrum – for more information please see About autism & PDA.
Our Being Misunderstood report highlights that 70% of children with a PDA profile of autism are not in school or regularly struggle to attend. This figure is much higher than for the Autistic population as a whole, and shows how challenging school can be with PDA.
You may have a child in your school whose presentation is hard to understand, who may not respond to conventional teaching approaches (as highlighted in this article in SEN Magazine) and whose behaviours may differ considerably between home and school. If so, exploring whether a PDA profile of autism could be an underlying factor may hold the answer and signpost a way forward.
How PDA may look in school
This information has been adapted from Autism Education Trust guidelines.
Some key characteristics of a PDA child at school, diagnosed or otherwise, may be:
A desire to be on a equal or superior to others – a PDA child may see themselves as equal to adults and not confer ‘automatic respect’ due to someone’s job title
A poor sense of self-esteem – this may not always be immediately apparent as sometimes surface behaviours may seem to be robust
Very poor emotional regulation; extreme/sudden ‘mood swings’
An ambivalence about success, typified by a child who destroys his/her work on completion especially if praised
A lack of permanence and transfer of learning and experience; sudden/dramatic setbacks after periods of settled behaviour and progress
A desire for friendships, often inadvertently sabotaged through a need for control
Extensive involvement in fantasy/role play
Meltdowns/shutdowns/behaviour that challenges – or equally a child may mask and internalise whilst at school (please see below)
It is not uncommon for children with PDA to experience multiple exclusions from an early age.
Some autistic people are very adept at masking, and this is very common with PDA. Masking means that people may be able to hide or ‘hold in’ some of their differences/difficulties in certain environments or with certain people. Significantly, this means that challenges reported in one setting (often home) may not always be seen in others (such as school or other settings). This can and does lead to misunderstandings.
For further information about masking, please see:
Some children can continue to mask throughout school; some children find it harder to continue to mask especially as their peers become more socially sophisticated and school life becomes more demanding.
As mentioned above, our Being Misunderstood report highlights that 70% of children with a PDA profile of autism are not in school or regularly struggle to attend.
School avoidance (also known as school refusal) – when a child is unable to attend school due to anxiety, phobia or trauma – should be treated as a health and/or SEN need. If a child isn’t attending school because his/her special educational needs can’t currently be met, the school and/or LA should be looking to provide suitable provision as soon as possible.
Neither situation should be viewed as truancy. The National Autistic Society provides useful information to help everyone understand difficulties with school and ‘school refusal’ – though please note that the strategies suggested would require considerable adaptation for a PDA child. Fran Morgan from Square Peg talks about the barriers to school attendance in this Educational Psychology Reach-Out presentation.
In this podcast, 15 year old James shares his thoughts on why school is difficult for young people with a PDA profile. He openly talks about his experience of school and the daily challenges around demands, masking, sensory difficulties, school avoidance, friendships and transitions. He also offers some possible solutions and tips for teachers, and shares some coping strategies that have helped him along the way.
Working with families
Believing, supporting and working closely with families is key to successful inclusion of pupils with a PDA profile of autism.
Good practice & helpful approaches
Working with PDA as a teaching professional is both challenging and rewarding. Browsing the available resources may give valuable insights – some have been tagged as being especially helpful for teaching professionals including:
Jilly Davis explains how to recognise pathological demand avoidance and offer effective support and strategies in this Teachwire article.
In partnership with Twinkl, the PDA Society has co-produced 5 PDA resources for teaching professionals which are FREE to download from Twinkl’s website. The 5 resources are a ‘deep dive’ into the theory and practice behind our PANDA approaches and offer schools and educators lots of helpful classroom support approaches as well as top tips and insight from PDA learners.
Whole-school training in helpful approaches with PDA is invaluable – courses are provided by the PDA Society and third parties, please see our training pages for more details.
The CAST Universal Design for Learning framework guides the design of goals, assessment, methods and materials that can be customised and adjusted to individual needs and to help make learning inclusive and transformative for everyone.
All research points to early understanding of strengths and needs, together with appropriate support, being key to positive long term outcomes.
We thought Zoe may be autistic but her needs were very different to other autistic pupils we had supported in school before, and none of our usual approaches helped. Searching for answers led us to PDA. Seeing Zoe through this lens enabled us to truly understand her and successfully adapt our practices by building trust and embracing a flexible and collaborative approach – Zoe’s teacher
In addition, we’d like to draw your attention to these additional sources of information, topics or fields of study which we feel are helpful in furthering understanding about PDA.
PDA Education support group is an informal Facebook group (independent of the PDA Society) where educators can share ideas, strategies and seek support from each other.
For further information about any aspect of education and PDA please contact our enquiry line. We offer a range of training courses and a series of pre-recorded free of charge webinars. We can also provide a 60–90-minute online consultation, for up to 5 education professionals, to work through perplexing situations involving young people in their setting with a PDA profile. For more information on this service including cost please email: email@example.com.
Recordings of our past Q&A sessions, where guest speakers with lived experience answer questions about PDA and education, are available to purchase for 30 days via our training hub: