When I did the PDA webinar for the PDA Society recently (to listen click here), a SLT asked me for tips for assessing a child with PDA. I said that they usually weren't too bad for initial assessment as children with PDA often enjoy being centre of attention and novel situations. It is often much worse when trying to engage with therapy. I usually use a dog in the sessions so he makes life easier.
However, I was reminded at the weekend, that this is not always the case and that we need tips and strategies to get us though these potentially trickier situations.
Just remind ourselves of the main features of PDA:
· appearing sociable on the surface but lacking depth in their understanding (often recognised by parents early on)
· excessive mood swings, often switching suddenly
· comfortable (sometimes to an extreme extent) in role play and pretending
· language delay, seemingly as a result of passivity, but often with a good degree of 'catch-up'
· obsessive behaviour, often focused on people rather than things.
We need to assess them to get an accurate picture of strengths, be able to give strategies for family and staff and to be able to devise a programme of work to address their issues and to maximise their potential. Obviously, the 2 areas we are concerned with are language processing and social communication.
We need to be aware that they do not like people to know they are struggling so they may
pretend/hide/disguise, distract or get angry..... or all 3.
1. Pretend, hide, disguise:
This is a key factor in PDA. A parent may ask them to do something very simple such as turn off the TV but they will have a wide range of reasons why they can't e.g. my legs don't work, I can't find the remote, I can't reach the remote, I'm too tired etc. This can escalate if pushed. You may find similar issues when trying to assess. They might say, 'I'm not doing your stupid tests and you cant make me' or 'you're only being nice to me so I'll work with you and I'm not falling for it.' That is true, so we need things in our tool box to ensure we can get a full picture of SLCN.
2. Distract verbally or physically:
Many of the children with PDA I have worked with, have either tried to shock or frighten me. I have lost count of the times I've been asked 'the worse thing they can think of' (Boringly similar with tween/teenage boys) and even had one boy who said 'you can't go yet because you haven't had sex with my dad.' The key is to be very nonchalant and either ignore or pretend you hear that everyday: 'Ah, No thanks, I'm a bit busy'.
One poor 10 year old lad who had been in a secure unit for 3 months, enjoyed scaring visitors by poking their eyes. This was also because he had a deep sensory-seeking need which wasn't being addressed and he got what he needed from firstly the fear of the visitor but then the 2 burly male nurses bundling him to the floor as he manically laughed in their faces. Of course they thought he was some possessed devil child and didn't see him as the frighted,very anxious boy he really is.
3. Get angry with themselves or others:
The anger may come out of the blue and may not be seen coming. They may look perfectly happy, even relaxed but remember they have cultivated hiding their difficulties. The anger may take the form of them hurting themselves such as banging their heads on the table or may be at you or your things.
So what can we do:
1. Realise that it is anxiety based and keep calm. Never take it personally, never be offended. Ignore wherever possible. I have 3 rules: no hurting themselves, no hurting me and no damaging property. Other then that, I go with the flow.
2. Use all the strategies you would for making language simple that we preach to others.
2. Give choices e.g. of which room to use, which order for the activities, which assessments even. This will help them feel in control. You may find a schedule of the session useful; picture photos or the written words.
3. Scale back demands by some of these strategies based on the 'Positive PDA' booklet:
Using indirect language
e.g instead of saying we're going to say “I wonder if we can...”
“Shall we see if we can beat the clock...” ,“Maybe we could investigate…”
This means avoiding direct language such as“It’s time for you to...” ,“You’ve got to...”, “You need to...”
Allow take up time
Plant the seed of what you would like to happen at the start of the session, but don’t expect it to happen straight away.
Use the child’s interests
Using characters of interest can help de-personalise demands, as you are not personally asking them to do something. For example, if the child loves Peppa pig, get Mummy Pig to make the requests. Older ones may like a Starwars character or even the queen who makes the rules, so it isn't your rules.
If you feel the tension rising, humour is a fantastic distraction. You could try making jokes, using physical humour (exaggerated facial expressions, or silly walks), being silly or feigning ignorance.
Distraction can be a handy way to temporarily press ‘pause’ and ease the child’s anxiety.
Add other activities into the mix
e.g. bubbles, popping balloons or blowing up and letting go, a feelie bag of sensory materials. 'If we just finish this, we will be able to do .....'.
The main thing to remember, especially as you feel exhausted at the end, is that this is for a short time. Their parents live with this all the time!
So good luck! Let me know how you get on.