5 Top Tips for Parenting a child with PDA, by Corrina Wood.

Corrina has worked with neurodivergent families for almost 20 years providing advice and support. As a consultant, she works with both families and individuals with Autism, PDA, and other neuro-divergent conditions. She is a qualified trainer who has been developing and delivering training to both parents and professionals for 15 years. Corrina is also a licensed Cygnet facilitator, an evidence-based course for parents of children with Autism. She has a Masters’s in Autism where her dissertation focused on parental stress and understanding behaviours. Corrina also works as a disability consultant assessing the impact autism has on parenting, and how best professionals can support autistic parents. She has recently published a storybook called ‘Paddy the Platypus likes Pants’ about sensory differences. As a parent, Corrina has four children with Autism, two have a PDA profile.

5 Top Tips for Parenting a child with PDA

I have four amazing children, all have Autism. They range in age from 26 down to my youngest who is now 16. But I have to say the two that have caused me to question myself the most have been my two PDAer’s. I have had to be super flexible, creative, and more than just one step ahead at all times – it is exhausting.

Over the years we have experienced, judgment from others, exclusions, school refusal, mental health crises, and discrimination, but also, joy, happiness, laughter, and success! Reflecting on what has helped over the years has led to my 5 top tips for parenting PDA’ers.

#1 Self-care

Most people would put this last, however, for me, this is the most important thing. Parenting a child with PDA is exhausting and you need all the energy you can muster to be ahead of the game. When we think of self-care we often think of doing something on our own or without the children, but for some, this is just not possible. I see self-care as that extra 5 minutes sat in the car on the drive before I go into the house, times where I can spend quality time with the family. Self-care is about recognising when you need a few minutes to re-boot it is an ongoing, daily need, not an occasional experience.

#2 Low Demand, Low Arousal

Promoting a low demand and low arousal environment can make a huge difference. Onlookers can be very critical of this as it looks like there are no boundaries in place – however, this is not the case. Low demand does not mean NO demand. Often there are natural boundaries and routines; observe your child and see if you can spot them. Allowing your child more control over the things that matter less reduces the number of perceived demands.

#3 Mind your Language

Disguising commands and changing our language can make a huge difference. Using phrases such as ‘I wonder if ….’ or ‘Let’s see if ….’ can reduce the perception of demand. Rephrasing can take time to implement, but it really does make a difference. The other thing to consider here is preferred communication styles. Some individuals with PDA find face-to-face conversation confrontational. I recognised this in my daughter and found that she responded much better to text messages as these were less confrontational and gave her time to process the information. Other parents have also had success using technology such as ‘Alexa’ to pass on messages, and one school told me that they told a child that the ‘Queen’ had said she had to carry out a task!

#4 Siblings

Let’s not forget that siblings often have a difficult time too. As parents, we need to ensure their needs are also met and that their emotional well-being is not affected. Siblings may need support in their own right, through counselling, or perhaps as a Young Carer. Sibs is an organisation that may be able to support with this and they have lots of great information and resources.

Read more: https://www.sibs.org.uk/

#5 Relationships

One thing that I have found over the years, is the importance of relationships, both with us as parents and with those providing support in educational settings. The most successful experiences for my girls have been when they have had a trusted adult to help navigate the physical and social space and enable them to feel safe. Someone that understands them, can spot the signs of them becoming distressed and reassure rather than react.

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