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Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)What’s in a name?

Imagine you’ve been slaving all week, up until the early hours working on a piece of coursework. You arrive, bleary eyed, adrenaline pumping, to hand it in and I say, “oh sorry, it’s not coursework for this unit. It’s an exam, starting right now”.

How would you feel?

What would be happening to your body?

What might you say or do, or want to say or do?

That is PDA. As humans we are all programmed to avoid demand that we are unable to manage in order to keep us safe. We all have a limit of external demands that we can manage and once we reach that limit we express our anxiety or frustration in a variety of ways.

Children and young people with a diagnosis of Autism often feel anxious about many things, may it be school life, social situations, transition or change, sensory needs or communication difficulties. Daily life can be a scary place and this means that any additional demand can be one too many to manage. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine what that demand may have been, or understand why the suggestion of a normally enjoyable activity has resulted in a meltdown. To the child or young person this could have just been the extra demand, outside of their control, that was enough to make their already full cup of anxiety overflow.

The term PDA can come with a stigma attached to it and understanding still has a way to go. It is important to remember that children aren’t ‘choosing’ not to comply with a request, and they aren’t just being ‘defiant’. A child with PDA isn’t able to comply to our request at that time because they are just too anxious.

There are several simple things that those supporting a child with PDA can change in order reduce anxiety and help them to feel safe in their environment.

  • Give the child an element of controlled choice. If you know there are 3 jobs that absolutely need doing within a certain timeframe, let the child choose the order

  • Provide a predictable routine and structure, with an element of flexibility to allow the child to make safe choices

  • Use indirect sentence and instruction starters. For example, instead of “you need to tidy up now”, try “I wonder if there is anyone here who can help me pick the toys up”, or “let’s have a race to put these toys away”

  • Represent routine and tasks clearly and visually. When things are written down the instruction doesn’t come from you anymore, so you aren’t the baddie. It’s also concrete, and permanent, which means the child can check it if they aren’t sure, and it isn’t going to change

  • If there is a homework task that needs doing try sliding the work in from the side. It seems simple, but it reduces the anxiety of a sudden unexpected work task

  • Reduce any demands that you are able to, including sensory demands from the environment and social demands. If you know your child struggles to manage their thirst, hunger, toileting needs or temperature regulation then try to make sure they are physically comfortable too

  • Stay calm, and pick your battles. If you need to walk away and your child is safe, then take a break. Children with autism often pick up on our emotions and anxieties which can make them feel unsafe and out of control

  • Reduce your verbal communication. Children with Autism all have a deficit in their social communication skills. Children with PDA are very skilful at appearing to be articulate and fluent in their conversations, but they still need extra time to process verbal information. Too many words can be too overwhelming, and even more so if you are feeling anxious

  • Try to remember that every behaviour is a communication of a need

Victoria Brewer - Autism Consultant, Education Advisor & Specialist teacher - Qualified Solution Focused Practitioner

We are pleased to announce our partnership with Victoria Brewer, a qualified specialist teacher, Education Advisor and Autism Consultant who has over 15 years’ experience working as a private nanny, a teacher in various special schools and units, running an elite childcare facility, and in an advisory role for the council.

Having trained in the use of TEACCH techniques, ABA and VBA strategies, PECS and Makaton and Social Thinking, Victoria took a special interest in Pathological Demand Avoidance. As A qualified Solution focused practitioner, we believe Victoria is an invaluable member of the Sennies team. Following an increase in demand for telephone / online support and techniques, we have partnered with Victoria who will be offering discounted bespoke training /advice / support for the entire Sennies community.



Ø SENNIES offer - Family bespoke Session = £35 per session, 1 hr

Ø Bespoke Family Support Package - email for a quote

Autism Training Packages for Sennies - Led by Victoria through Zoom

Ø Short Course £35 per Sennie , 1.5hrs

Ø Full Autism Awareness, including practical strategies to Support children and young people on the Spectrum, £65 per Sennie, 3hrs

Please get in touch with Sennies to book in a free 15 minute consultation with Vicky to find out more or for free advise on a singular topic you would like to address.

If you are currently looking for SEN Childcare please contact Georgia directly on as we have Super Sennies available for temporary or permanent placements to cover all of your SEN childcare needs.

07312 099105



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