Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA

Just in time for the annual review of my daughter’s Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP), a book coincidentally arrived for me in the post!

Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA, by Ruth Fidler and Phil Christie, is a useful resource providing strategies for education professionals and is published by Jessica Kinglsey Publishers (click here if you would like to purchase a copy).

The book begins with an overview of Pathological Demand avoidance (PDA) to give the reader a better understanding towards the condition.

As a parent this section resonates with me as I find it extremely accurate when describing the key features, and in turn, the barriers to my child accessing a school environment.

This resource moves on to introduce a Collaborative Approach to Learning and how this would actually play out realistically within an educational provision.

What I do appreciate also is that it focusses on the difficult implications this may have on staff and the usual restrictions that schools will have trying to implement a different appraoch for one pupil.

However, as a small aside, I question whether it could be a way of working across an entire school as it could be a style that suits many others too.

I think this approach is well researched and gives a great deal of emphasis towards the impact it may have on staff when trying to accomodate a child, who may have extreme emotional disregulation, and places the importance of staff wellbeing at the core.

As parents, we can ofen focus on our own child and their immediate needs, without incorporating the viewpoint of the teacher who will often be challenged and exhausted in much the same way as parents are.

I guess the book acts like an independent support party, helping to bridge the gap between school challenges and those that impact on the family, so that both teams can be understood and work better together as a result.

The book has practical strategies on how to support staff – especially focussing on needing enough space and time to reflect on incidents that might have happened.

A structure that might work, for example, is to use a strong rotation of staff and to provide access to specialist training and guidance on PDA.

It looks at maintaining a clear leadership model – something I have found to be a positive aspect in our current school placement.

It is essential that staff also work in unison by supporting, observing and guiding each other, as well as by learning from each other when both positive and negative experiences occur.

There is a resource included in the book with reflective, practice questions that may help staff with their learning process, this small following section gives you some idea:

What I like in the book, is that it has been produced having come from a great wealth of expetise of working with a range of PDA children, which helps the reader understand that different strategies will work with different pupils.

And with that knowledge also comes observations that really do identify the challenges faced by children with this presenting profile.

An example of this is when pupils have negative ‘social fixations’ on staff or peers.

You would have to work deeply with a child of this nature to understand how this can be a very challenging component to educating them within a school environment.

I pick this example as it is currently being discussed as a major concern when tackling our review of the EHCP.

As a parent, it was extremely empowering to produce this book in the meeting and share resources that could help.

I particularly liked this social flow diagram to help the child with their negative fixation on a peer:

Understanding that children who are able to articulate language, but might not fully comprehend social interaction, is also highlighted in this book, which is particularly useful if you are unpicking the ‘surface’ social skills of the pupil.

An example of working with one child who could draw his lack of social imagination is humourlessly included below:

There are other problem solving charts included in the book, opportunitising on the young person’s cognitive reasoning skills, so that they can develop their own pathways to access emotional intelligence:

Another example used in the book is a chart to help the child/young person understand the strength of emotions – something that is difficult to do when you struggle with social imagination and theory of mind.

In the next figure, you will see a film score used as a rating scale, that has been personalised to a pupil’s own experiences.

The idea would then be to implement this understanding when comparing to an emotional response in school – a strategy that is now being written into my daughter’s EHCP:

The book also includes examples of what a flexible and personalised timetable may look like (and would be great for those parents/teachers who recognise that priorities need to be reduced according to tolerance of demands on the child) such as this one:

We have now taken up flexi-schooling for my daughter, which is something I will write about in depth, as other parents have got in touch to say that their schools will not be flexible enough to drop parts of their regular timetables.

Using a book like this may offer some confidence for a parent to show as a structure that is possible for educating their child, after all, many schools do and can show success using this approach.

It may also reassure the teaching professionals that it is a practice, well researched and executed, and therefore a viable option.

Our SEND Specialist Advisory Teacher for Communication and Autism, who was present at the meeting, also produced her own copy of the book for the table.

She had used it to help write an updated report following on from an observation she had made on my daughter at school.

The SAS lead pointed out during the meeting that she found this resource useful because the usual strategies she would ordinarily recommend had been proven to be unsuccessful for my child and this book helped to write a report from a different prospective.

We are incredibly lucky to have so many proffessionals on board who are willing to go that extra bit further to fully understand and support a child who requires a tailored approach.

Our Assistant Principal for Inclusion has already invested her time and energy by reading the last book I reviewed, PDA by PDA’ers, and is in the process of ordering the Collaborative Approaches to Learning for the school team.

Members of staff have also attended specialist training workshops and the PDA Society Conference this year to better their understanding on the subject.

This book is not expensive at £13.99 and is something that could provide a breakthrough for many professionals working or supporting an individual with PDA.

It may throw in some new strategies or provide a school with a framework with which they can find a way to collaborate their learning practices as a full team effort.

The book would be a useful and essential resource for any SEN department – it has a range of information and strategies that could work for a range of children, especially with ASD, ADHD and/or other related SEMH/EBD needs.

Finding methods to put the learner at the heart of what you are doing, whilst incorporating a flexible and fluid learning style, is key to making it a success for the individual as well as the staff.


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