The PDA society’s keys to care document is one I often share to give a brief overview of PDA and explain a little how people could help Edward. I thought I’d take some time to share a few specific things we have done to ensure he thrives.
See the person, explore their interests and engage positively
Edward is almost 5, and I think there have been 3 key interests he has had. Firstly Cars (the Disney films) then Robot Wars and now it is Pokémon. These interests become all consuming. He pretends his bath ducks are Pokémon, we talk about which Pokémon might be experts at teeth cleaning. When we are out for a walk we battle as Pokémon before we are able to continue up the road. We are able to talk about things by using role play, which means Edward is a little more open to doing things he may otherwise not.
Our home educating life is completely unstructured but all sorts of learning happens within his area of interest. Categorising Pokémon, talking about their strengths and weaknesses and Pokémon maths (this book is brilliant) have all featured.
Recently we have created the most streamlined Lego car to transport his Pokémon toys. By being a little bit creative but embracing his interest, Edward becomes much more open to engaging with new experiences. It also helps when attempting to visit new places to talk about the best Pokémon to take with us (water Pokémon to go swimming, for example).
Approach PDA as you might caring for a panda – create the environment which enables individuals to thrive
This is something that we have tried really hard to implement in our lives. In this instance I’m going to talk about Edward’s immediate home environment. If you were to visit our house, you may find it slightly unconventional. We have made it a safe and comfortable place for him where he has fewer every day demands. We don’t have large furniture (no sofa or dining table) as we found ourselves constantly reminding him not to hurtle into them/jump off them. The solution for him, at the moment, was to remove them. We have just this week purchased an enormous beanbag for sitting to, and jumping on and off. We eat on a large picnic mat on the floor. We had considered making our spare bedroom into his sensory room putting his swing, monkey bar, wobbel board etc. in there. Instead I felt strongly that his sensory needs couldn’t be segregated in this way and these items are movable throughout the house wherever he needs them. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, he also has his little hideaway cupboard where he loves to go. Yes, unconventional but so much better for all of us, allowing Edward the freedom to relax in the one place totally designed for him.
Indirect ways of wording requests, or even silence, helps with completing tasks
Reverse psychology used to be really effective, although a little less so now, and Edward does still become suddenly more inclined to do things on the rare occasion I’ve just made a hot drink! When being given direct instructions, his answer is always going to be no, regardless of however appealing the request may be. His response is a result of panic and anxiety. I therefore find myself providing a little information, for example ‘it is sunny, the shop/park close at whatever time’ and then just leave it with him. Time pressures do not work, and are totally counterproductive. Asking Edward to rush, results in a panic response, causing him to freeze. If time is a consideration, I find other ways to help things happen. Follow the leader and Simon Says (but with a Pokémon name) can be effective although not reliably so.
Sanctions and consequences (including rewards) do not work and make things worse
It is important for me to remember that when Edward doesn’t do something, it isn’t because he is being obstinate or defiant, it is because his anxiety will not allow him to. Therefore if I then removed something as a sanction he would be helpless and confused. Rewards are also not an incentive to encourage Edward to do anything. If he is able to, he will. A reward would not change this ability.
He doesn’t like direct praise, but I’m always sure to share things he has done when he is in earshot. These don’t have to be major things, I ensure I let him know that the little things (which aren’t little to him) are great achievements too.
Enable some control and choice, allow for negotiation
This is something we find ourselves doing constantly. Edward currently throws soft toy owls into a laundry basket before he goes to bed, the number of times has increased steadily over the past few weeks. He gets a choice of 5 or 10 times and always chooses 50. This is his way of putting some control over his bedtime routine (which deserves a whole other blog post itself!) and he is in control, meaning a smooth run up to bedtime. If we insisted on a lower number, there would be distress, meltdown and a lot of anxiety. This strategy works for us, and as long as we give Edward enough room to manoeuvre with his choices, he keeps that freedom he needs.
Processing can take longer than expected take and allow time
This is really fundamental. As I referred to earlier, time pressure leads to panic. Before offering Edward information, or asking questions or instigating a conversation, I always says ‘let me know when you’re ready for me to talk’ he can then finish his thought process/game/TV programme without worry that it will be interrupted. I tend to speak in short bursts so he isn’t overwhelmed with chat and the bits he needs to know come first. Often I say things like ‘pasta or rice cakes’ without any more than that, then leave him to decide without further input. Some days we have longer, more detailed interactions, but I have learnt to distinguish those times he needs less from me.
Fairness and trust are central, if things change, be clear and honest about why
After a period of finding our way, Edward can now be sure that we won’t do anything or go anywhere against his will. He has the freedom to choose when his hair is brushed, when he goes in the car, when he gets dressed. We live in a way where this is totally possible and deliberately make very few arrangements that are time sensitive. This has lead to a trusting relationship where he knows he can trust I will do the best for him. If something unexpected does occur, I will explain to him honestly why it has changed. Frequently the instigator of changes in plans is Edward himself.
Collaboration, flexibility, variety and humour all work well
Humour plays a big part in helping Edward feel safe. We play on the fact that different people are a bit silly sometimes if they make a mistake and he loves to do ‘Wacky Wednesday’ (Dr Seuss is a genius!) We use this as a way to tidy up, and then put a few items back in a strange place for his Dad to find when he gets home. We vary our strategies as novelty wears off. This is a bit trial and error, and I try to ensure I change things before they get monotonous for him. This is a skill I’ve not yet perfected! Edward loves novelty but things definitely move fast and I have to find new ways of doing things on the spot. I frequently find myself saying ‘ah I’ve got a really good idea of what we can do’ while my brain is rapidly thinking of something fun and safe to provide a distraction before Edward gets bored and distressed.
If you share one thing about PDA today, the Keys to Care document by the PDA society is a fabulous one.