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Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Some pupils, whilst on the ASD spectrum show atypical signs of autism.

These pupils appear to be much more sociable than other children with autism, but they become controlling and are using a superficial socialising to control others. This is due to the stress and panic they feel when asked to complete tasks This condition is known as Pathological Demand Avoidance or PDA.

This condition is not recognised in Warwickshire and most local authorities in England and is categorized as a form of atypical autism.

Children in this category often have the following traits:

  • Obsessively resisting ordinary demands
  • Appearing sociable on the surface but lacking depth in their understanding (often recognised by parents early on)
  • Excessive mood swings, often switching suddenly
  • Comfortable (sometimes to an extreme extent) in role play and pretending
  • Language delay, seemingly as a result of passivity, but often with a good degree of 'catch-up'
  • Obsessive behaviour, often focused on people rather than things.

Whilst we have experience of supporting pupils with PDA across England the majority of pupils find secondary school difficult. In most cases these children end up being home taught by the age of 12. We have found a similar pattern.

Where we have been successful we have applied the following support strategies:

  • Carry out a risk assessment for the child being in school including the control mechanisms for reducing risks.
  • Agree a prioritisation table which sets out which behaviours are non-negotiable and which we can be slightly more relaxed about. Health and safety issues are always non-negotiable.
  • Have a good working relationship with parents. We are on the same side and want the best outcomes for your child as well. We expect parents to back up our decisions as any sign of disagreement will add to the confusion that the child is
  • Offer an identified key worker to report back to parents as often as possible to keep communication flowing. The key worker is most likely to be a teaching assistant who works with the classes that the child is in.
  • Structured break times and lunch times to help avoid disputes within friendship groups. The controlling nature of children with PDA can get stressful for other children in the friendship group, which is the root cause of most issues.
  • Identify a safe place for when the child is feeling stressed where they can go to reduce their anxiety levels.
  • Use of a 5-point scale so that the child can let staff know when the child is starting to feel anxious. We usually suggest time out in the safe area when the child indicates a stress level of 3 out of 5.
  • If a child has a meltdown in school then staff should realise that there is little they can do through reason with the child. They need to try and calm the child or give the child some space to calm down. It is unlikely that the child will remember anything that happens during a meltdown. Staff should only need to intervene if there is risk of harm to the child or to other children or adults.

You can find more helpful information on PDA using the following links:

Here is a link to the PDA Society.

Here is a link to strategies for coping with children with PDA.

Here are the slides from the training session we run with staff:

Campion School
Sydenham Drive
Leamington Spa
CV31 1QH
United Kingdom

Tel: 01926 743200