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Managing Children With PDA

When any request is made of a child with PDA they become anxious. At times they may be able to manage this anxiety sufficiently to comply. However, on another occasion the same or similar request can overwhelm them with anxiety and they are unable to comply. In managing children with PDA, there is a need to understand that anything that increases the anxiety or fear of the demand will increase the likelihood of demand avoidance behaviour.

PDA children usually required a dedicated key worker in school or nursery who can establish a positive relationship. This person needs to have infinite patience and the ability to quickly change plans in order to work with PDA children. Avoiding aggressive and violent behaviour requires a non-confrontational approach where concepts of right and wrongdoing are dealt with indirectly and sparingly. Where there is an established history of violent outbursts towards staff i.e. more than two; then the keyworker should be trained in restrictive physical intervention. PDA children are unlikely to recognise the authority of senior members of staff so they should also avoid confrontational language and behaviour unless totally unavoidable.


Some strategies that can be effective in managing PDA include:

Stephen Norwood:
I once arrived at a primary school for a meeting. I had only walked a few steps into the school before I was pounced on by the headteacher. "I'm glad you're here, we're having a bit of problem." Leaving my bags and coat behind I was led into the hall. "He is just running around and refusing to stop. You're the behaviour person, can you sort him out?" There was a five year old boy, who I had never seen before, running around with a big smile on his face. With the headteacher watching and my 'expertise' being assessed I had about five seconds to do something! I walked over to the boy and said calmly, "Hello, I'm a stranger to this school. Could you show me where the Year One classroom is?" The boy stopped, said "Yes" and then we both casually walked down to the classroom.

So why did this work? Mainly novelty, the child was probably curious about me as I was someone unknown. Also, my demand was a polite request asking for help and there was no mention of the wrong behaviour.


PDA children may often not respond to traditional rewards and sanctions and may benefit from specific resources that help to maintain their control of the situation and management of demands. Below is a specific resource for supporting engagement with learning.

Learning Task Choice Board (PDF)

Learning Task Choice Board

Use this resource to help a PDA child access the curriculum by providing a choice of tasks to achieve the learning objective. Each task should ideally be equal in helping to consolidate and develop the lesson learning. Once complete there is space for a choice of two reward activities. This should be completed with the child. Introduce by encouraging the child to record the activities they want to do. Only when be used this way begin to encourage other adult directed activities to be included starting with just one. Build up very slowly. This is a PDF version.

Learning Task Choice Board (Word)

Learning Task Choice Board

A Word Document version of the above resource.

You may also be interested in the following pages:

Parent Surgery ASD


Restrictive Physical Intervention