PDA Management

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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. There is rarely an understandable pattern to this so predicting when the child will be more or less compliant is difficult to achieve. 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. Strategies that are most effective tend to focus on avoiding the child noticing that a demand has been made.

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.

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Stay calm and try to keep your body language neutral

PDA children can be infuriating in their avoidance of demands. It can be a challenge to always remain calm when working with these children. However, PDA children tend to be hypervigilant and can pick up on an adult's frustration. They will then tend to use this to manipulate or escalate the situation and avoid the demand. Getting very angry with a PDA child can sometimes work initially, (usually because of the novelty, see below) but very quickly becomes ineffective and increases the chance of aggression and violence.


Be indirect when giving instructions

It is important to try and avoid making direct demands of a PDA child. This tends to trigger avoidance behaviours or outright refusal. Being indirect when giving instructions is a strategy that removes the demand and replaces it with a description of the situation, problem or need that requires their action. For example:

'Close the door'
'The door is open'.
'Tuck in your shirt'
'Your shirt is untucked'

Intentionally complicate language in instructions

Processing language requires brain power. When the language is more difficult to understand or follow it necessarily demands more brain power and concentration. When a complex sentence is spoken to a PDA child their brains become wholly focussed on decoding the meaning of the language. The complex language therefore acts as a distraction from the demand hidden within it. For example:

'It's time for reading'
'When we've found your reading book we'll have time to enjoy it together'.
"Please put on your shoes"
"Before we go out let's check if we've all got our shoes on."

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Use novelty to distract or calm

PDA children are generally very curious and can often be easily distracted when a new situation, person or interesting object is presented. This strategy can be highly effective even when the child is having a 'meltdown' or being outright defiant. The following anecdote illustrates this point:

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.

In order to apply this strategy you need an endless supply of novelties as each thing tried will only work for a short while. Once the novelty has worn off it become ineffective. Use of tablets can be very helpful as images and short videos can be relatively easy to find and used to quickly acquire some level of cooperation from the child.


Use their interests to distract and maintain attention

PDA children often have specific focussed interests. These can sometimes be used to gain some cooperation and concentration on adult directed tasks. Try to incorporate their interests into their personalised curriculum. For example, a child interested in fairies may be more likely to do activities that are built around the theme of fairies. Writing stories about fairies, drawing or painting fairies and arithmetic based on the number of fairies in each calculation.

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