ESSENTIALS: Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) with Ruth Fidler

ESSENTIALS: Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) with Ruth Fidler

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Working with pupils who refuse, engage in task avoidance or endless negotiation in class? Then it may be your pupil is affected by PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) - which is a form of autism.

In this essentials episode, Ruth Fidler explains what drives the behaviour of pupils with PDA - and how using traditional autism-friendly strategies might actually be counter-productive.

Important links:

Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA: Strategies for Education Professionals

Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children

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Show notes / transcription

Ruth Fidler  0:00  

So if somebody with a PDA profile is understood as having an autism spectrum condition, and a lot of the usual good autism practice strategies are put in place, because those are largely centred around clarity and predictability. And there are lots of benefits of that. But the downside of it is that what it can produce in strategies is an approach that is very structured and not very flexible. And that means that that approach is very heavy on demand. And so for the young person with PDA, it's going to be regularly and repeatedly triggering their demand avoidance. 

Simon Currigan  0:40  

Welcome to the school behaviour secrets podcast. I'm your host, Simon Currigan. My co host is Emma Shackleton and we're obsessed with helping teachers, school leaders, parents, and of course, students. When classroom behaviour gets in the way of success. We're going to share the tried and tested secrets to classroom management, behavioural special needs, Power School Strategy, and more. All with the aim of helping your students reach their true potential. Plus, we'll be letting you eavesdrop on our conversations with thought leaders from around the world. So you'll get to hear their latest evidence based strategies before anyone else. This is the school behaviour secrets podcast.

Hi there, Simon Currigan here and welcome to this snackable essentials episode of school behaviour secrets. In this mini essentials episode, I'm going to share with you one important bite sized piece of information or a helpful strategy from a previous interview episode that you can use straight away with the kids that you work with. Because in a world where teachers and school leaders are constantly bombarded by information, it's helpful to have little reminders every now and then, to keep important strategy is top of mind. In this essentials episode I'm going to share an insight into pathological demand avoidance from Ruth Fidler from Episode 16. Ruth is an educational consultant who specialises in complex forms of autism, including pathological demand avoidance and people's emotional well being. She's also co author of a number of books including understanding pathological demand avoidance syndrome and children and girls and autism. Here's Ruth explaining what PDA is how it drives a student's behaviour, and how we as adults can respond in a constructive way to that people's needs, without making things worse.

Why does having a diagnosis or a distinct description of the PDA profile make a difference?

Ruth Fidler  2:34  

Well, I think there are some really important key ways. One of them is fundamentally about the well being of the individuals with a PDA profile. Because often what happens and we see this across all sorts of differences, and certainly within the world of autism spectrum conditions, if somebody doesn't have a degree of understanding of their profile and of their differences, actually, it makes it much harder for them to manage their lives, their social relationships, their aspirations, and that's not about limiting them, that's about helping support their self awareness so that they are better equipped for knowing what is likely to work well for them. And therefore, to accessing the help that they need, it can also seriously support their self esteem. Because if you are experiencing differences that sometimes present difficulties into your life, and you don't have an explanation or a context to understand that within then a lot of young people might turn that in on themselves and have a very negative view of themselves, or unfortunately might get really unhelpful unkind labels, if you like from some of their peers. The other really key factor in getting a distinctive diagnosis is about having access to the right sort of approaches. So if somebody with a PDA profile is understood as having an autism spectrum condition, and a lot of the usual good autism practice strategies are put in place, because those are largely centred around clarity and predictability. And there are lots of benefits of that. But the downside of it is that what it can produce in strategies is an approach that is very structured and not very flexible. And that means that that approach is very heavy on demand. And so for the young person with PDA, it's going to be regularly and repeatedly triggering their demand avoidance because they know exactly when to expect demands throughout the day. Yes, and because they come thick and fast if you think about a sort of like a visual timetable or something or teach strategies where it's a do this first, then that then the next then you know you finished and when you finish you move on to something different, there are significant advance and touches of that in terms of it being structured and predictable, and that has a positive impact on reducing anxiety. But for somebody with PDA, that positive impact might be outweighed by the negative impact of receiving a shopping list of demands essentially. 

Simon Currigan  5:17  

It all comes back to looking at the individual child, what works for them, and looking at ways of helping them cope with the anxieties and demands throughout the day.

Ruth Fidler  5:25  

Yes, absolutely. I think it's important to be clear that when people like myself talk about strategies that are helpful for young people with PDA, we talk about being flexible and adaptable and child centred, that doesn't mean that we're saying will lift all expectations, anything goes, just do what works for them at any given moment. Because what we are saying is tune into that know how far you can go know where to push the boundaries, where to prioritise different areas of learning, because long term, what we want is we want to increase their tolerance to expectations, not because we want to control them, or tell them what to do a lot of the time, but because of this thing that I was describing, at the beginning, about a lot of those expectations are internally generated. So if we want to support young people to be aspirational, we want them to be able to see through some of their own aspirations and their own choices, not just those coming externally. So what are the model is placed on the child? How do they experience it internally differently from other children? How can we put ourselves in their shoes? Well, that's a really interesting question. I think this comes full circle straight back to that you need to find out what that experience is like for that individual. And I don't think there's one answer to that question. I think it's very interesting to look at that broader context. So to not just look at, is this child not doing what I'm asking them to do in the classroom? Because they seem to come across as deliberately difficult? Or what are the broader explanations around that? If you keep in the back of your mind, that notion of how does this individual's Autism Spectrum condition impact on them? Are there some issues around understanding? Are there some issues around social communication? Are there some differences around their sensory profile? Has their anxiety just been triggered? Which I might not have spotted triggering myself, maybe I have done inadvertently, am I seeing some demonstration of anxiety that looks like this in that person, but might look different in a different person, some of us tend to be much more expressive and explosive, when we're anxious, and others tend to shut down. So we need to understand what that looks like in different individuals, don't we? And one of the things I talk a lot to school practitioners about is looking at what's running in the background. So if you think of it in IT terms, what are the background apps that you've got open at any given time? And is that little thing you're asking that child to do or just pop your book on the table? Is that just one too many, even though it's not an unreasonable thing, and it's asked in a very polite and gentle and kindly way, etc. So being aware of what's going on for that individual, and how many simultaneously difficult things they are being asked to accommodate? And on top of that, I think there are lots of very valid reasons why many of us don't want to do what we're being asked to do. It happens to us all, doesn't it? And some of those reasons might be that I don't understand what you're asking me to do. Or I did think it sounded quite a good idea. But now it's happening. I'm not feeling in the mood so much, or something else has come up. I prefer to do that now. Or I don't like the way you asked me. Or I want to do something else in a different way. Because that now looks more exciting. But I'll come back to this later. Can we negotiate on it? There are all sorts of reasons why somebody might not be in a position to cooperate. That is a very sad state of affairs. If education practitioners go too quickly to an assumption that the reason is they are being deliberately difficult, or they are somehow defying my authority in my classroom, because that's probably quite low down the list if you picked it. 

Simon Currigan  9:30  

So I've got a child in my classroom who's got PDA and I can see that they're becoming more anxious, I can see that placing another demand on them is going to create difficulties for them. What should I absolutely avoid doing? 

Ruth Fidler  9:44  

Well, you should absolutely avoid making the situation worse if you possibly can. So come back to that point that I made earlier about how many simultaneously difficult things are being asked of this young person just now and which of those are essential for this moment. And which of those can we just get rid of? Which of those can we postpone? Which of those can we been entirely? Which of those can we just alter the emphasis of? So if they're in a busy environment, and you think that might be contributing to sensory level, how do we quieten and calm the broader environment down. And that's not always maybe by moving that child with PDA, it might be, in fact, much simpler to move everybody else. Because if you asking the child with PDA, who's already agitated to move, you're then putting another demand in the pot, if you think of it, like some sort of a cat with nine lives or something, and how many do you want to use up in any given day, you're making some careful and considered decisions about what matters most in that time. So essentially, what you're trying to do is reduce the number of additional agitators you put in place, then maybe consider what is going to work to soothe this young person, what can I use in relation to my knowledge of them, my relationship with them, our shared interests, things that we can have a laugh about together, or I might just totally change the subject and go, Oh, did you see that thing on telly last night and talk about something that you know, might engage them. So looking at reducing agitating factors, and of calming things and of finding a direction forwards. Now, that doesn't mean that you are abandoning the thing that they're struggling with or that you're struggling with, because you will really want them to do it, it just means you're putting it to one side for now to get everybody back into a state of equilibrium. And from that point, you can plan forwards. 

Simon Currigan  11:51  

And that was Ruth Fiddler giving you an insight into what feels the behaviour of people. So you have a PDA profile. I've put a direct link to Ruth's books in the episode description. And of course, you can always head back to Episode 16 To hear the full interview. If you'd like more information on the subject, it would be time very well invested. And that's all we've got time for on this essentials episode. If you've enjoyed listening today, please remember to rate and review us It takes just 30 seconds. And when you do that it prompts the algorithm to recommend school behaviour secrets to other listeners. And that helps us grow the podcast and reach other teachers, school leaders and parents. And while you've got your podcast app open, Do please remember to hit subscribe so you never miss another episode. Thanks for listening and I look forward to seeing you next time on school behaviour secrets

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)