Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA for short) poses a unique set of challenges for teachers in mainstream primary classrooms. ‘Getting it right’ can often feel a bit like the holy grail and lead to both teachers and their pupils feeling frustrated and disillusioned. It needn’t be this way however. There are lots of simple strategies that can be used effectively in the primary classroom to ensure good learning outcomes for all.
So what can we do:
Figuring out where you can reduce demands is key, as demands are likely to trigger high levels of anxiety, meltdowns, work refusal and ultimately in some cases school refusal. As teachers we give far more demands than we realise, so next time you teach it’s worth asking your TA or another colleague to note down every demand you make of your students in the first hour of the day. You truly will be astonished at how many there are.
Looking through the types of demand you make as a teacher will help you to think where you can modify your language to build in more choices, where you can stop spoken demands and instead use visuals to replace those and where you can decide whether some demands can be got rid of altogether.
After all, a coat that has fallen on the floor can easily be rehung by the member of staff who finds it. Instigating a further demand can be less easy to backtrack from.
Think about the learning objective in your lesson and other ways you can assess that. Offering a choice of the main activity or an alternative which still meets your objective can be a great way to reduce demands but still meet your learning outcomes. And remember, choices don’t only come into play in lessons. Looking at the areas of the day that your pupils are struggling can really help you to assess and put into place choices at those particular times. Things like choosing an indoor or an outdoor play time, or choosing whether to sit near a window or an exit at lunch time can both have a huge benefit in reducing anxiety levels.
Incorporate Special Interests
Finding ways to incorporate the special interests of pupils is a fantastic way to alleviate anxiety. Because when we are happy the brain releases endorphins doing special interest related activities is a fantastic way to keep children interested in their work and relaxed enough to work for longer. So whether you work on counting using Dr Who figures or adjectives using words to describe a favourite game or series remember that adapting your learning objectives to included pupils’ interests can yield fantastic results.
When we are anxious or feel as though we are losing control of situations we often react quickly and say things that we don’t really mean. For children with PDA big emotions are a part of every second of life. It’s therefore understandable that sometimes those feelings come out in ways that aren’t appropriate. Being quick to forgive, offering fresh starts and showing a child that they will never push you away can go a long way to building bridges. Modelling the calm behaviour that you want to see will result in far better long term results than lectures or lengthy punishments.
Remember always that works this week may not work next week. Don’t be afraid to try new strategies and approaches. Keeping things fresh whilst still being consistent is often essential. Have fun, plan new things and together you and your pupil will find a way that works for you.