These are the top strategies that see us through daily life. 2-5 are interchangeable, depending on how the child is reacting to them, how subtly they can be slipped into life and how fresh you can keep them. Our PDA children need variety, so if a strategy works, keep swapping about with other strategies so they don't become predictable, boring and anxiety provoking.
Prescriptive ABC type of parenting strategies rarely work for PDA children. I can't tell you to follow what we do exactly, because it may not work. The trick is to use some general strategies and tweak them to your individual child, after all, you know them best, you know how much they can take without pushing back.
5. The Incredible 5 point scale.
I intend to write a more in depth blog about this, or even make a video.
The 5 point scale is an opportunity for child and parents/carers to learn to recognise the little signs that not all is well.
Until using this method, PDA boy appeared to be having giant meltdowns completely out of the blue which took us by surprise every time and really fit into the Jekyll and Hyde image that's so often associated with PDA.
Taking a big step back, watching, and making notes, allowed us to start seeing the little things, the tiny features of our son which allowed us to accurately identify how he was feeling even when he didn't have a clue himself, this then gave us a head start to introducing techniques to help him feel better and hopefully avoid meltdown.
Like any other PDA or ASD strategy, it's not infallible, it's not perfect, but it does help alongside other methods.
The 5 point scale is a way of rating how a child is feeling, 1 = fine, happy, relaxed, 2 = ok, but a little bit stressed, but nothing to,worry about at this stage, but keep closely monitoring because.... 3 = stressed, but still receptive to calming strategies and distraction to prevent reaching number..... 4 = too late, meltdown inevitable, get child to a safe place or batten down the hatches, 5 = meltdown, wait it out, there's nothing you can do here, child (or adult) is in fight, flight or freeze mode, nothing you say will help, some children may respond to hugging, some, like mine, will resort to violence if not left well alone at this stage.
I can't tell you which behaviours to look out for in your child, I don't know them, but the more you use scaling, the more in tune you will be to your own child's body language.
Printable scales can be found on the website The incredible 5 point scale, alternatively you can make them with the child making it more personalised, eg. PDA boy made his with animals, 1 was represented by a meerkat, 5 a mosquito.
You can also use more numbers, say 1-10, if 5 isn't nuanced enough.
There are other ways in which scaling can be used, for example to scale behaviour from acceptable to unacceptable, but in my opinion when it comes to PDA, it's maybe better to focus first on using it to learn how the child is feeling, we've found that using it in too many areas just dilutes its effect and makes PDA boy wary of it being used.
4. The Explosive Child by Ross Greene
An excellent book, which teaches collaboration and negotiation skills to parents/adults working with the child and the child themselves.
There is a sister website to this book called Lives in the balance, and a Facebook page (also called Lives in the balance) which shares short videos occasionally to show a practical demonstration of how these methods work.
3. Pick your battles, pick your rules.
When it comes to PDA strict boundaries and zero tolerance tend to increase the difficult behaviour, because the child has very little control their anxiety will be sky high which means that their need for control skyrockets, by avoiding demands and more fight/flight/freeze behaviour, which is very distressing and uncomfortable for the child.
Don't say no if there's any chance you'll change your mind at some point, after hours of meltdowns and badgering. If you can say yes, say yes and go with the flow. It's not always easy to say yes, and sometimes we have success with a "we can't do this right now because xyz, but after we're done we can do it, shall we write it down?".
We found as well that we need as few absolute rules as possible, obviously these will depend on the age of the child, a four year old will not need a curfew for example.
Our main rules are:
Teeth must be brushed.
Seat belts must be worn.
Other rules may be added as necessary, but there must be an obvious point to the rule, if the child can't see a reason for the rule, they are likely to not respect it, and you might as well save yourself a whole lot of heartache and meltdowns and relax the rule, save it for a time when the child is more relaxed, or there is a natural consequence to your rule.
We have not introduced a no hitting rule in our family, not for PDA boy anyway, because to do so would show him that we think this behaviour is under his control, which it isn't (yet!). PDA boy is only violent when in meltdown, something which has massively decreased since taking him out of school. He knows violence is not acceptable, and understands that we work with him to help prevent this. Once it's happening it's too late, we can only keep our other children out of the way and keep ourselves safe, no point punishing him for something he will feel dreadful about once he's calmed down, better to support him to not get to this point in the first place, and teach him the skills to regulate himself.
Rules are for things that he has control of. He does push it, he will unclip his seat belt close to home, and in these instances we will stop and lock the car, and in a very calm voice say something like "oh dear, I can't drive when people aren't strapped in", and wait. It's more difficult when he melts about this, but tackled another time by writing a list about what we're doing, that he has input in, and as he understands the seatbelt rule he will add this to a list, almost like a social story, it helps him to carry out the demand.
Toothbrushing took a long time, but we got there by making sure he had two or three toothbrushes, a choice of toothpastes, choice of toothbrushing song (yes, we sing songs to get our children to brush their teeth!), which all together eventually helped him to feel in control of the whole process.
When it comes to non-negotiable rules we've found it's important to be ultra consistent, never back down, and keep going, even if it takes months. Some things have to be done.
By taking away pointless rules it allows that child more scope to accept only a handful of rules.
"The less a child has to do, the more they are able to do" is a mantra that saw us through some very difficult times.
2. Decrease demands.
Change your language. Life is full of demands, even hidden ones, and a child will respond much better to options, "let's see if...", "I wonder how I can....", instead of "right, bedtime, NOW!" or "sit down and eat your tea".
It means you need to be imaginative in your approach, and like anything, this is a skill you can learn. Keep notes of your successes, and try to find other similar ways to handle things. Find out what works (for us laminated lists were a godsend), but shuffle things round so that the child doesn't get bored with the predictability, or you, the parent/carer don't get complacent. Talk to other parents, there are support groups out there, share strategy ideas, try new things, be humerous, adventurous even.
1. Accept PDA and be realistic.
None of the above strategies are any good long term without an underpinning of acceptance.
Your child is not naughty, or deliberately wilful. They have an autism spectrum disorder which means that even basic demands can send them into fight/flight/freeze mode. The child is likely feeling dreadful. Meltdowns are avoidable to a certain extent, using the above strategies, but when they do happen they are out of the child's control, just like an asthma attack or a seizure are not deliberate.
Understanding this, and making sure all adults involved with the care of the child go down a route of understanding and supporting instead of judging and trying to discipline it out of the child, can go a long way to a more peaceful life.
It's so common to read and hear of different parenting styles, when parents' views clash, and it's so important to remember in these cases that it's not a competition, it's not one parent pitting to win over another parent, it's about a child, a child who will be far more confused and anxious when parental approaches are conflicting.
PDA parenting can look like extreme pandering to some parents, and to strangers and sadly to many experts. When you understand the underlying anxiety though, you can get a decent understanding that the only way to progress is to take the anxiety away and take tiny steps to tackle each little trigger, or avoid it altogether. This is not weak parenting, working with your child is something amazing parents do, so don't ever let anyone doubt what you are doing for your child. The child is autistic, no amount of "well they've got to live in the real world" is going to make them stop and think "oh, I'll stop being autistic!". Accept and respect the child you've got, use methods that work, and bugger anyone else!
If one parent is resistant to trying these methods, it might be worth suggesting a trial period, say a couple of months, to use PDA strategies alone, forget discipline, forget rules for rules' sake, go with the flow, allow the child control of themselves, and see how it goes.
Be realistic though, there is no such thing as a magic wand, the child is autistic, this is not going to go away. Life is hard for the child which makes things hard for parents/carers and siblings, this is not going to go away. The point of the strategies is to make life easier and allow the child a chance to reach their potential, not to cure the child!
Keep diaries, this is simple with the 5 point scale, as you can simply record the number that corresponds to the child's feelings, you will then have a record of how things are going.
Since taking PDA boy out of school, he has gone from mainly 3s and 4s, going into 5s on a regular basis, to mainly 2s and even occasionally 1s! It's still difficult, but the improvement of mood is proof enough to us that we are doing the right thing for him.
If the child is able to articulate how they are feeling talk to them about things, ask what works for them, what doesn't work, you might be surprised at the insight they can show surrounding their demand avoidance. If they are able to tell you, you need to act on it and show them you are listening to them. Ignoring them and their views will show them they can't trust you and may negate any progress you have made.
Remember that school can be a difficult place for our children, and stress levels may consistently reflect that. If you can get school on board with at least some of these strategies it can be very beneficial to the child.
Home educating isn't as scary as we thought it would be, and seems to be something that many PDA parents choose for their child at some point, simply because the stress involved with traditional schooling can be so damaging for our children. This is a very personal choice though, and depends on many other factors in life.
Remember as well that we are all human, none of us is perfect, we all have bad days when things escalate, days when it's too easy to slip into an authoritarian parent role which inevitably leads to meltdown. Don't beat yourself up when you get it wrong, try to have a break and then start again. It's hard work, we all cock up sometimes. Remember that it's not the child's fault though, and that will make it easier to get back on track!