Learning Visually

PDA: It's about "Can't not Won't!"

PDA was identified by Elizabeth Newson, a British psychologist in the 1980's. She recognised a group of children with "atypical autism" with specific defining features. She observed that these children have a compulsion to control situations and avoid demands due to exceptional high levels of anxiety. 

PDA is a sub-trait of the Autism umbrella. While these students still experience the social-communication and behaviour difficulties associated with their autism, there is the added feature of needing to be in control. The control is anxiety driven due to the need to avoid demands. Behavioural techniques that work for the student on the Spectrum do not work for students with PDA. A correct diagnosis as early as possible is essential. 

According to Christie (2014), the main features are:

  • Obsessively resists demands
  • Appears social but difficulties are noted by those who know them well
  • Excessive mood swings
  • Language delays as a result of their passivity
  • Obsessive behaviour
  • Comfortable in role play and fantasy
  • Sensory sensitivies
  • Severe behavioural difficulties

Key strategies fall into 4 main categories:

  1. Allowing the student feel a sense of control (use personalised timetables, ask the student what works for them, embed interests into their tasks)
  2. Reduce pressure (adjust the timetables, create flexible learning spaces, use and availability of break cards to access a chill zone)
  3. Consistency (be clear about the boundaries and when flexibility is appropriate, be clear about the non-negotiables, write up the non-negotiables as a Script - A rule with a good reason is much more likely to be accepted than one that is pointless)
  4. WORK WITH PARENTS, this is essential

PDA is a condition that is still not recognised by key practitioners who believe that a separate diagnosis is not necessary. However, PDA has gained momentum in the United Kingdom, as a result the PDA society in the UK has been established. PDA is a condition that easily goes unrecognised until the formal years of schooling, which is why they fly under the radar during the preschool education. 

To understand PDA, let's hear from an individual who has PDA. Enjoy!