PDA – Dealing with the effect and not the cause

I am going to go straight into the subject this time.

I have an 8-year-old Aspergers/PDA child though with or without a diagnosis it shouldn’t matter. He was faced with total confusion for many years, sent outside the classroom many a time, restrained in front of others and dragged to the heads office.

It became a regular occurrence, but why did no-one ever think that there might be a reason behind the behaviour? The professional, in our case the teacher, would never look deep enough into the reason behind it all. They were too busy looking at what effect it was having at that time, the effect on the other children in the class, the disruption and then creating targets and sheets of paper with demands such as “I will use kind hands 80% of the time” or “I will not shout out in class 70% of the time”. His compliance was then indicated by green faces or red faces. Red being that he may have shouted out in the morning but orange meaning he got better at not shouting out in the afternoon.

Why was my son not using kind hands all of the time? This was just one of the examples, could it of been his lack of lagging skills? Lagging skills are underdeveloped skills in children which hinder their ability to deal with a situation.

Lagging skills are an unsolved problem. No one ever thought to look at the reason behind it. You need to know the unsolved problem, which looking back at it now was a difficulty in managing his emotional response to frustration in order to think rationally.

I remember an incident where my son was playing with the school bricks, the playground was already a difficult place to be coping with such a unique sensory profile, even so much that they allocated a certain area of the playground for him so he had his own space away from the other children playing. Looking back at this I am unsure now if this was just dealing with the effect my child had on other children, to isolate him to the corner of the playground.

You would possibly laugh at this but I was isolated to a different part of the playground also in the last year my son attended. At drop off in a morning school had made the reasonable adjustment for my child to enter the classroom 1 minute earlier than others, so he avoided the rough and tumble in the cloakroom. We were told to wait at the class door each morning, which meant the only few mums that would talk to me I eventually lost, it wasn’t just my son being isolated from socialising but it did feel a little like we both were made to. I guess that really hit home .. how different we were made to feel, rejection, and social isolation.

My son couldn’t play like the other children, he struggled with social communication. PDA would get in the way as he would be the one that needed to be in control of all the games, he could not cope with losing. His sensory profile would be on high alert all the time. How can a boy play football or even simple games like tig when he was so sensitive to touch, the whole playground was too overwhelming. We asked if he could participate in some lunchtime clubs, one such club was the IT club. He had a strong passion for technology but sadly this was not consistent when the teacher who was running the club would cancel last minute leaving him in meltdown.

Simple communication between us and the teacher with a pre-warning could have helped this unsolved problem but it seemed that a parent suggesting this would be asking too much. Even asking for my son to be in the club each term was a battle as you needed to follow the rules and procedures of emailing school each end of term to ask for your child’s name to be added to the list. You would think a child who suffers so much on the playground would just be added to this, but no – we had to go through children tormenting him. Telling him that he might not get to go to the club to see what his reaction would be.

Isolated in his part of the playground, out of the way playing with his stack of bricks he would play with these for the duration of the break, stacking them in his own correct order. One day,  a child came across and took one of his bricks .. my son lashed out at the other child. He was given this area as his space, he understood rules and was a very rigid thinker, looking back at the behavioural logs this seemed to happen a lot, children seemed to want to see the reaction my child would give so they would keep pushing his buttons.

What was the consequence of the lashing out? It certainly wasn’t understanding. Again, straight to the the effect and not the cause – restraint then in an elbow lock he was marched down to the heads office. My child was used to being sent to the office since the age of 5 years old so this was no big deal to him. The fact that the teacher restrained him when he was sensitive to touch would have had a bigger impact on him, not long after this incident we decided to look at flexi-schooling as the number of restraints were spiraling out of control.

All day he would have a huge level of frustration inside him waiting for me to come and collect him. I would be greeted with him pulling a sad face at the other side of the window. I knew then that something has happened. I blow him a kiss to reassure him that everything is going to be ok soon.  He comes through the door and into my arms.  I’m handed a strip of paper with red faces coloured in from lunchtime up until school end from the teacher.

Why could no one look at the unsolved problem behind this and help and support him rather than knocking his self-esteem lower? As you can imagine we got a lot of red faces on lots of slips of paper. Walking with the paper in one hand and my boy’s hand clenched into my other hand I held him tight reassuring him that it was ok, the paper didn’t mean anything nor did the way the school thought they were helping, instead, they were making things worse.

Clearly, the teacher doesn’t have enough time to work out the reason for the unsolved problems that my child desperately needed help with, maybe it was the parent’s fault and they are to blame? Everyone has busy jobs, but solving the problem would take less time than leaving the problem unsolved.  The teacher is teaching 30 children with one teaching assistant, when my son is lashing out she doesn’t have time to think of the cause.

Maybe a good SENCO (Special Educational Needs  Coordinator) could have worked this out? Maybe in our case, she did not have time as she was managing the school,  juggling being a SENCO at the same time. I am not slating any teacher as I understand how difficult it must be to manage a class of 30 children whilst having another child who seems completely out of control in the class. But all I do ask is for professionals to try and get their head around the fact that rewards or smiley face slips won’t teach my child or any child the skills that they are lacking or solving the problem that is making these challenging behaviours happen. This is why I think it is so important to stand back and look at the cause, surely the cause of the problem to help that child is more important than the red face slips or the hours spent in the office or even more damaging physical restraint.

They did not understand how to deal with a child with social-emotional challenges. The school were too used to dealing with children that can behave well because they know how to.

I remember the day we discovered PDA trawling through the Internet. Looking at article after article, trying to find the answer to the unsolved problem as I knew my child was not just naughty, he was brought up with  a loving family around him. I didn’t need to question my parenting – I had raised a now 17-year-old boy and we had no issues with him. As we delved deeper into understanding PDA I got excited. I had found the explanation behind a big unsolved problem that no one was addressing and possibly making things worse!

All professionals were implementing strategies for an Asperger’s boy and they weren’t working. The joy that I felt when I knew there was a way we could turn things around. The next morning I greeted the Head/SENCO with a huge smile on my face explaining what I had found on the internet. She looked at me confused and I knew she hadn’t a clue what I was going on about. I suggested I would email her the link I had found that evening as the way we were all teaching our child was the complete opposite to what should be done.

The link was sent, maybe you could guess the response?

It was nothing.

Why couldn’t they listen to the parent who was telling them that their child wasn’t spoilt, they weren’t just getting their own way, the strategies that they were implementing at home were working so why couldn’t they listen? Maybe as parents and not professionals they thought we were just too emotionally involved?

I lent the class teacher the first book that I bought – “Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome In Children, a guide for parents, teachers and other professionals” by Phil Christie. It is still my go-to bible but as a first book, I think it’s a great book to learn the basics of PDA. I had to ask for the book back when my son was taken out of school, again I don’t think it got read. I left it in the teacher’s hands for months.

Understanding why a child is showing challenging behaviour for us was our turning point. Our son was not just wanting to be a naughty child, why would he go to school in a good mood to then want to be punished all day? If he was just a naughty child why were we not seeing more of this behaviour at home? You could say we had more time at home, but looking at the number of hours my child was in the heads office or being held fighting back, they wasted a lot of hours that could have been spent actually working out the unsolved problem.

  • Children do well if they can – if they can’t, adults need to step in to figure out what’s getting in the way so they can help
  • Identifying the lagging skill (Unsolved problem)
  • Using different approaches to teach the child
  • Working together, parents and teachers.
  • Solve problems with your child rather than motivating your child to change

In some cases, certainly ours. Our child needed a new environment, a new identity, a fresh start.

In his new school we are seeing an entirely different approach. He is forming relationships with new teachers with new ideas, different teaching methods, the school is listening to parents but most importantly listening to the child.

The change in our child has come from him, he’s an intelligent child at 8 years old and has learnt already some of his own unsolved problems, this alone has seen an improvement in his attitude, mood and determination.

Without even picking up “The Explosive Child” by Ross W. Greene we were already solving our child’s “unsolved problems” but reading the book gives you a much better idea about lagging skills and unsolved problems, it is worth a read for any child that you believe is frustrated, finding school difficult and home. I strongly believe all professionals would benefit from reading this book, it sure makes you look at behaviours in a completely different way.

If only schools could look past the old-fashioned way of working with children who are obviously screaming out for help. Scrap the red faces, scrap sitting in detention for hours. So many hours wasted. Think about the hours that could be spent turning this around.

Both books mentioned in this blog are available from Amazon. I highly recommend them:



Leave A Comment