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Be flexible and make the most of the situation

Children with PDA are experts in avoiding demands and so things will often not go to plan. Adults need to be able to 'go with the flow' and adapt to changing circumstances. In school, lesson objectives may become unachievable when the child actively avoids them. At these times the adult's focus becomes about managing potentially explosive situations and attempts to pursue the lesson objectives are often necessarily abandoned. When this happens the adult can try to make the most of the situation by using any opportunity to introduce target related learning into the child's activity. It is important that the child has a personalised curriculum with clear individual learning targets. Staff need to use any opportunity to reinforce them by changing


Reduce pressure around demands

Try to make doing a request a very casual, ordinary and unhurried experience. Use reassuring comments such as:

'You have as much time as you need.'
'It doesn't matter how you do it'.

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Transfer the demand to them

Encourage the child with PDA to come up with the next step themselves. For example:

Now you need to put your coat on'
'What do you think we need to do now?'
'Line up for assembly'
'What's next on the timetable?'

Create silly challenges

PDA children often respond well to demands hidden within novel and creatively complex language. Adding a bit of fun and humour makes these demands even more likely to be complied with. For example:

'Bet you can’t finish before I say "Hibbily Dibbily Do" three times'
'I don't think there is anyone in the whole universe who can do this sum'.

Silly or even absurb challenges require brain power as the child processes the language and ideas involved and this helps to distract them from the demand. However, this can sometimes lead to avoidance manipulation by the child with challenges of their own. It is usually best to avoid or at least be cautious when trying to get the child to compete with others as this may increase anxiety.

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Depersonalise rules

PDA children avoid demands because of a severe performance anxiety. This tends to be experienced more when there is a real person making the demand. They are much more likely to comply with requests that are established as coming from a higher authority. They often want to comply with official rules and can sometimes get quite anxious when they or others do not obey these rules. The strategy involves prefixing instructions with reference to this higher authority. 'This is a school rule' or 'It is the law'.

Other Things To Do

Providing controlled choices

"It is entirely up to you whether you write the date first or the learning objective."

Directing the demand at no one in particular

"I can't imagine how we'll get this Lego tidied away into its box."
"If only there was someone who could help me do this?"

Use indirect praise

"Everyone has done well in this lesson."

Silent demands

Teachers often use 'copy me' visual cues to get children to quiet down.

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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 comfortably using this way should you begin to encourage other adult directed activities to be included starting with just one. Build up very slowly. This is a PDF version.

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Learning Task Choice Board (Word)

Learning Task Choice Board

A Word Document version of the above resource.

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You may also be interested in the following pages:


Social Story Examples

Ten Things To Do

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