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Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) describes the notion of children’s reluctance to complete a task or attend school. PDA is prevalent with autistic children or those who are very pressure-sensitive or anxious.

Children with PDA may find it difficult to undertake a task, not because they do not want to, but because they find the demand overwhelming. How can we support these children and what strategies can we implement to overcome these challenges?

Eliza Fricker profile pictureEDClass spoke to Eliza Fricker, author and illustrator who has written several books concerning autism, PDA and the education system. Her book “Can’t Not Won’t” was a Sunday Times bestselling title. Eliza’s knowledge highlights the struggles that parents and families are currently going through regarding attendance and general educational challenges. Concerning PDA, Eliza stated:

“There will be a level of demand avoidance, but PDA is a lot more extreme, and so requires a lot of adjustments. Pervasive drive for autonomy outlines how someone with a PDA profile will need to feel a sense of autonomy and control over what they’re doing, and that follows through with how they learn as well. We need to be wary of encouraging rewards and praise because it can be detrimental to someone with PDA as it creates more demand and pressure.”

Providing children with a sense of autonomy in a controlled manner could potentially be beneficial in the long run with their confidence building as a result. Children with PDA may struggle with their education and relating to any of the subject material. We must find what works well for them. Eliza said:

“Co-regulation can work well. Someone with PDA responds well to authentic, genuine connections. It’s much more than just finding someone to talk about a subject with them. It’s finding that person who genuinely would be into doing that with them because that’s their interest.”

Supporting those with autism

Children on the autism spectrum may struggle to concentrate on their education or block out distractions. Managing these challenges can be completed by finding a creative avenue in which they take an interest. Eliza outlined:

“I think it’s really important that children have positive experiences during learning. If that learning can be based on an interest, that can be really positive. For a lot of neurodivergent people, and I include myself in this, we very much sift and filter out what we find is important for us to learn. Focus on their strengths and get to the crux of what a child actually needs and that is where excitement and interest in learning will come from.”

Find something that resonates with the child so they can concentrate for longer periods. Ultimately, this can allow more knowledge to be obtained by a child when they are engaging in their education.

Reintegrating a child with PDA

Student absence rates have been high recently so we must explore new methods and strategies to overcome the challenges they are facing. Eliza stated:

“Learning differently can bring back that confidence and then children can find an environment that works for them. It could be their mainstream school, a different one or something more flexible. Being able to have that period at home, learning in a different way, can have a positive change for them.”

Remote or hybrid learning can be highly beneficial for a child with PDA. Confidence can be built gradually and knowledge can be acquired in small increments that aren’t overwhelming for them. If you would like to learn about EDClass’s effective online alternative provision and how it could assist students with one-to-one support from UK-qualified teachers, and aid a positive reintegration, call 01909 568338, email or enquire for more information here.