A blog that explores the concept of PDA as well as offering an insight into life with a child with PDA

As a parent of a child with PDA I decided through trial and error to follow a path of ‘Radical Unschooling’.  This means that my child is not controlled by others or by outside forces and that I allow her to be independent in mind or judgement and self directed.  She is free, as much as possible, from external control and constraint.  For a child that avoids all demands made on her to a ‘Pathological level’ this has proved to be a rather successful option for us. By placing no controls over her she has, for the most part, set her own boundaries and her level of general compliance, ability to meet others half way, use of inappropriate language and overall behaviour has improved beyond my wildest dreams.

So what does this actual mean in laymen’s terms?  Well basically I very much treat and allow my child the same rights as an adult.  She does not go to school, any learning is self directed, she goes to bed when she wants, she gets up when she wants and she eats what she wants.

As long as she is not hurting other people or herself, breaking the law, causing mass destruction of property, displaying unacceptable anti social behaviour or emotionally hurting or causing stress and anxiety to someone else then I do not step in.  These are my non negotiable boundaries and even when these are broken, which they invariably are although this is getting less, I do not step in with consequences or punishments.

Instead I choose to support, guide and assist her to modify her behaviour.  So how do I do this without using parental enforced consequences and punishments?

Natural consequences can prove to be useful but these do need to be natural and not ones that I am in control over.  E.G, if she is rude to the parents of her friends they will eventually stop their children with playing with her or if she is rude and hurtful to me I will be hurt and may not want to be with her for a while.

However I can’t leave everything up to natural consequences because although I don’t wish to excerpt parental control over her, because it simply doesn’t work and courses the opposite, I can advise and guide her.  Although this will often need to be done during periods when I am likely to achieve the best results i.e. not when she is angry, stressed or anxious.

Disrespectful Behaviour towards Others
We can discuss why some things aren’t appropriate and how these actions may make other people perceive her.  We may role play so that she can understand the situation from someone else’s perspective with the hope that this may help her to modify her behaviour.  I may empathise that I understand why she said what she said because I understand that she was upset, nervous, anxious or angry and then move onto alternative ways of how this could be handled in the future.

Violence towards Others
If she is violent to other people then we may remove her from the situation.  Not as a punishment but merely because I understand that this is not acceptable for her to be able to do.  When she is calm we can discuss why this isn’t ok, find out why it happened, what were the triggers and how can we think of alternative option for the future.  Simply removing triggers can automatically reduce violent outbursts.

Inappropriate Language
Virtually the whole world swears, you hear bad language everywhere, in the school yard, at football matches, in a family pub at the park.  But we expect children not to either pick up on it or use these words themselves.  I really don’t have much of an issue with swearing as long as it is used in its appropriate place. However this a personal view only and I fully appreciate that for various reasons swearing may be a non negotiable boundary for many families.  I don’t have a particular issue with swearing however that does not mean that I like to hear my daughter swear but I feel that I would be a hypocrite to tell her not to.  So instead I have decided to guide her as to when and where it is appropriate or inappropriate to use certain language.  In the house is one thing but using it outside of the home will not be deemed acceptable by other adults.  In normal conversation or used as an expletive in response to pain is one thing using it to maliciously hurt others is another.   If she was swearing in the street when playing out with other young children or within ear shot of adults I would remove her from the situation if I felt that it was bordering on anti-social behaviour.  There wouldn’t be a punishment for her behaviour but merely a preventive measure out of respect for others. There would then be a negotiation and guidance as to why this wasn’t acceptable.  If she randomly spoke to me disrespectfully or used swear words in a derogatory fashion I would guide her as to why this is not ok.  Words can and do hurt, how would you like it if I spoke to you in that way and so on.  However this may often be done at a calmer time and not instantly.  Other objectives may be my priority at that time.  Funnily enough she has naturally reduced her swearing of her own accord over time and now apologises when swear words slip out a home.

Blatantly ignoring other People’s Needs
Again rather than punishing or enforcing other people’s needs on her we seek to encourage co operation in a different fashion.  We may discuss how the other person feels if their house is not being respected and is that ok.  We may come up with a list of rules together of what would be acceptable to both of us.  Discussing at the same time why we need to eliminate some activities but at the same time still making room for others.  By working together she is learning how to accommodate the needs of others rather than simply feeling that I am controlling what she can and can’t do.

The end goal for me is to have a child that can self moderate her behaviour so that she can exhibit acceptable behaviour in a variety of settings.  For many children this may be achievable by more traditional means of discipline.  However, for my child, these traditional forms of discipline only serve to actually increase the undesirable behaviour.  Taking a very different, radical and unorthodox approach has actually caused huge improvements in my child.  They haven’t been instant improvements, this method has taken time and constant positive reinforcement but the results are there to see.

I think that all parents have the same end goal in sight and that we should be tolerant that there is often more than one method of achieving that goal.  How we seek to achieve that goal is unique to the individual child and the parenting style of the adult.  This has by far being the most successful method for me but I am by no means saying that this would be the most successful method for another individual.  For us the hard line and coming down firm simply does not work, does not reverse undesirable behaviours and does not help my child achieve the best that she can be.

Giving her full control over her life and me actually caused the reverse to happen.  She released the extraordinary amount of control she that she needed over her own environment and reduced her demands on me.

By allowing her to have full flexibility over all aspects of her life she now chooses, for the most part, to fall in line with the rest of the family rather than fight to the death over every tiny little thing that was asked of her.

Our relationship, which I thought was broken beyond repair, is now positively flourishing.  She can still be rude and fly off the handle but will often, without prompting, apologise and explain why she was so highly strung.

The reclusive and depressed child that wouldn’t leave the home for two years and withdrew from all social contact, including that of her family was in a very dark place.  She is now fun, bubbly and appears to be really enjoying life again as well as playing outside in the sunlight.

She appears to be more able to cope with the needs of others and to cope with unexpected disappointment or not instantly being able to have her needs met.

Everything could go all wrong tomorrow but following a total of six years in a very, very dark place the light at the end of the tunnel is now shinning bright.  Mollie will always have PDA, she will always be complex, she will always need to be show far more tolerance and flexibility and she will always be prone to controlling and unpredictable behaviour.  However, for a child with PDA, she is now, apart from the odd exceptions, very well behaved.  This is because I no longer treat her as a child.





Comments on: "My View of Radical Unschooling" (15)

  1. I love your method, unfortunately Dinky is not at the stage where she can appreciate any of these ways as she is still very much self centric, however this is certainly the path I feel us going down naturally in order to stop me ending up in a padded cell😉

    I admire your flexibility, creativity and your devotion to Mollie and helping her in the best way for her in the face of those who will wag their finger with very little knowledge of what it is like to be a mother of a child with PDA.

    As it seems dinky is following mollies PDA development path, I thank you for sharing your ideas, they give me hope xxx

    • It is still very hit and miss with Mollie and at Dinky’s age conversation about such things was nil. In line with Dinky’s age you are already on this path. You already parent Dinky in an autonomous manner and hopefully you will begin to reap the benefits as she grows older. Mollie is completely self centric which I try to used to her advantage, reminding her of the positive outcomes for ‘her’ by doing things a certain way but then leaving it up to her to do as she sees fit. Its like planting tiny seeds here and there, you may not see them sprout for months but at least the seed is there and you never know when it may grow and break through the ground. There is hope and you are already doing everything possible to help Dinky, the rest will gradually unfold with age🙂 A padded cell is unfortunately compulsory with a child with PDA lol not for them but for us he he xx

  2. thislittlepiggywig said:

    wow….I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, having just discovered PDA today! I am the mother of a boy – should say young man – now 20yrs old, and I have been to hell and back with him, as you will no doubt understand, although neither of us dwell on his childhood or discuss it – I have repressed all the bad memories I guess, till today.

    I had to remove him from school and home educate, when he was 8 going on 9yrs old, as they wanted to send him to a secure unit and force feed him drugs – I’d always refused to medicate him. Having always been judged as the cause of my son’s ‘bad behaviour’ (he was diagnosed Aspergers and ADD, but they didn’t account for much of his overriding, truly awful behaviour in school) his school was incensed when I removed him, and reported me to social services! He’d already been expelled a couple of times by the age of 6, and the special autistic unit he went to part time told me they couldn’t handle him because he wasn’t like the others. They said he was different, but they didn’t know why.

    Anyway – as you say in this blog post, I let him do as he pleased whilst home schooled (I didn’t have much choice LOL) with just the bare minimum rules as you have imposed on your daughter, concerning hurting others etc. Well – IT WORKS. I wish every parent had the luxury of keeping a child like this at home instead of sending them to school, surely the worst environment for them. Everyone who knew my son as a child, doesn’t now recognise the young man at all – he is calm, self confident, philosophical, very self aware, controls his temper admirably, has worked hard at college since he was 16 to catch up with his peers, is very creative, ambitious, sociable, and hopes to go to Uni this September – A little later than his peers, but better late than never – If I’d left him in school he was headed for young offenders institutions and a tragically early death I’m sure.

    I feel very much for any parent raising a child with this problem, but there is a way. I looked at it as being a case of “he will only be a child for 10 more years – I have just this one chance to ‘tame’ him, or he will be ruined for life – he is MY responsibility as I brought him into this World” The result is well worth the sacrifices involved in home educating, in my opinion. So long as you pay scant attention to the ‘educating’ bit. I was more concerned with his behaviour than with his academic achievements – you can be brilliant and talented, but if you can’t control your temper/reactions to other people, you are going to end up in prison/dead eventually.

    Obviously with no crystal ball, I had no idea if I was doing the right thing at all, but mainly I had FAITH IN HIM – I could see he wasn’t a bad person, underneath all the violence and destruction – there were glimmers of someone caring and kind in there too. I think mainly home ed. gave him time out, alone (we were isolated) to think, about life, himself, etc. He lived online and played video games constantly. We were both lonely and bored I think, but it beat the constant stress and humiliation of dealing with school teachers and the useless psychiatric services.

    Rotherham LA were very hostile to home education back then, so we had to at least SEEM as if we were pursuing an academic path, for our annual meeting with them. I joined Education Otherwise and became well versed in the law and our rights. I argued that what was suitable for his age group in school was unsuitable for him as an individual with SEN. If I’d had a diagnosis of PDA that would have been much easier to prove! At our last meeting, the man in the suit from the LA said ‘it seems you were right – it really was school which caused him problems’ – High praise indeed, from someone I’d fought with for 8 years. So stick at it – ‘unschooling’ works miracles.

    • Wow thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s hard enough now for parents but to show such steel determination for you son without all of the support and benefits that parents have now is truly awe inspiring. It would be lovely if you could join our facebook support group to help and advise others. My partner in crime is an adult age 31 diagnosed with PDA when she was 13 by Professor Elizabeth Newson herself. She also runs an adult support group which your son may find useful. Although he sounds extremely grounded now it is good for her to have members who have lived to tell the tale and are able to tell positive stories and accomplishments. Having PDA, we believe, when nurtured correctly can be a great positive. I would love you to click on the link and join, you could be such a great inspiration and help to other parents. Thank you again for you wonderful response and brilliant comment xxx

      • thislittlepiggywig said:

        thank you jane that really means a lot to me – I am not used to being praised for my parenting LOL – Unfortunately I don’t have facebook so can’t log in. I have Aspergers myself and ADD – by way of an explanation for being the only person left on the planet with no facebook!

      • Perhaps, when you can, it may be worth setting up a facebook account and accessing some of the groups to access like minded parents. In my house I am the odd one out. Hubbie has Asperger’s and OCD, son has Asperger’s and Mollie, of course, has PDA. I call myself ASD by proxy lol. I am not technical at all by hubbie, son and daughter are thankfully. My hubbie set my account up and my son showed me how to use it. How sad am I he he xxx Seriously it may be good to set one up, just follow the instructions and join our group xxx

  3. thislittlepiggywig said:

    I’m sorry but I really to have total resistance to the concept of facebook – I’m more of a forums person myself, but I see the PDA society forum is a little quiet – probably because most (normal) people prefer facebook LOL

    Having looked further into the advice and information leaflets on their website, I am not sure if my advice would really be welcomed, as I took a rather unfashionably strict line with my son, imposed sanctions and basically forced him to get his outbursts under control (or never see his computer again!) His computer was my ONLY leverage with him as he didn’t care about anything else. Once he became physically big enough to fight me over it if I removed the actual machine, I resorted to switching off the electricity at the mains, as it’s dangerous to get anywhere near someone having a meltdown, as you know. Eventually it worked – I can remember watching him the first time he struggled to remain calm – I was so proud of him (I have had to learn to control a monumental temper myself so I know how hard it is when the red mist descends, to KEEP STILL – rather than destroy anything within arm’s reach).

    I know my son saw affection and comforting (current advice for handling meltdowns) as signs of weakness and would use them against me, very cleverly, at the first opportunity. I know he enjoyed making adults jump through hoops, and could play all his teachers like a fiddle. I know he was Machiavellian in his social skills, from a very young age, which was definitely not an Aspie trait (total honesty being my style). I wondered at one point if he was a psychopath! But he did seem to have a conscience in there – a genuine one, as well as the ‘crocodile tears’ he would happily shed to get adults to forgive him when he’d pushed them too far. If adults were really angry with him he would play the ‘frightened little child having a panic attack’ card – which worked every time in school, probably because adults really need to believe that children are innocent and in need of help, whereas these children really are the ones in control.

    Also I pick my battles wisely – I made and still make, very very few demands on my son – I am the servant, cleaning lady, etc. It’s just not worth arguing over in my opinion – I have taught him how to do chores now he’s about to leave home, so he’s not helpless, he just can’t be bothered to help me! When he was a small child I would let him eat in his bedroom every dinner time, as he wished. I would pretend to go to bed at the same time as him, 7pm, wait until he was asleep, then get up again quietly! No arguments there – it did help enormously having no other children and no partner (I’m divorced) as I could revolve around him. I realise this is just not possible for most parents.

    I even wiped him bum for him until he was 9yrs old! On his 9th birthday I just said ‘you’re 9 – I’m never wiping your bum for you again – do it yourself from now on!’ He resisted and cried etc of course, but he had no choice really. Talking of poo – he would deliberately hold his poo until getting to school, because of the disruption it caused when he needed to go – until he realised that staff were not going to wipe his bum as he’d assumed they would (the ultimate humiliation isn’t it – getting someone to clean you up when you are perfectly capable of doing it!) As I say, he loved to make adults react – we were like his puppets.

    Finally my real saviour was Cesar Milan – yes, the dog trainer! His methods for training aggressive, dangerous dogs really did work wonders with my son too. ‘Calm asssertive energy’ ‘Exercise, discipline, affection’ (ie: affection LAST not first) Confidence boosting exercises – strangely these children lack confidence at heart, so they need to control everything. If you boost their confidence, they feel less anxious about not being in control.

    My son hated me for many years, because I was not afraid to stand up to him, and not afraid of being hated by him either. I had children as I wanted a family to love, but I had to bury that dream with him, because he needed firm handling, and merely saw affection as a sign that he had the upper hand. He appreciates me now he’s old enough to understand what I’ve been through with him, but at the time when he was young, he hated me. I think a lot of parents would find that hard to deal with – it’s very tempting to appease your child because you want them to love you – this is the approach his dad took with him, and he basically became our son’s plaything – he will do anything for him, buy anything for him, never says ‘no’ to him, even now he’s grown up.

    Discipline was entirely down to me – I had to morph from being a soft little ‘yummy mummy’ into a sergeant major – it was hard, but necessary, because I could see that in a few years time he would be able to do real damage to people. Once he got older I would explain to him that controlling his outbursts was THE single most important thing – not education, not relationships. I emphasized the importance of self control over his meltdowns. I explained that prisons are full of people who are not necessarily bad people – they just never learned to control their tempers. I told him once he’s a teenager, he only has to lose it ONCE and do some damage to someone – just that split second of failure in self control will wreck his entire life – and possibly someone else’s too.

    So as you can see, my views and methods aren’t really in step with current parenting guidelines on the ‘softly softly’ approach. His teachers were soft, his dad was soft, and he ran rings around them, treated them like fools and felt they deserved it somehow. He had no compassion for anyone with less intelligence than him either, so I had to teach him compassion, and give him strong moral guidelines. I rescued A LOT of animals, and slaved over them for nearly 10yrs, which taught him about self-sacrifice, respect for other life, and caring for the less fortunate even when they were just ‘dumb animals’ – Prior to that he had been quite ruthless about younger or less able children, and was a bully in school.

    Is it any wonder I’ve repressed these memories LOL – feel free to share this post with anyone if you think it’s useful though.

  4. thislittlepiggywig said:

    sorry to add a PS – but regarding the danger of these kids running away – I was always very concerned about security at pre-schools and schools – they were unbelievably lax back in those days and he could (and did) just walk out if I wasn’t there to watch him! At home I kept all the doors and windows shut and locked at all times, unless we were going out together – and the keys well out of his reach.

  5. thislittlepiggywig said:

    I think the main difference between whether you have to use the ‘softly softly’ approach, and whether you have to insist on no violence and back that up with sanctions as I did, is that I had a BOY to raise. I am only 5′ tall, and a single parent. By the age of 8, he had already tried, and almost succeeded, on 2 occasions to KILL me, for something trivial like switching off the TV. I had to throw away my kitchen knife block when he was 5 YEARS OLD after he picked up a knife and turned it on me, no doubt for something equally trivial!

    I was well aware of the fact that I had a very small window of opportunity – about 5 years – once I’d removed him from school aged nearly 9 – before he would grow big and strong enough to kill me, and he would have – he used to tell me in chilling detail how he’d planned it all out! So you see it really was a matter of urgency for me to tame his temper – or I’d probably not be typing this now, and he would have been in young offender’s institutions and probably graduated to prison already.

    Maybe boys with PDA are far more violent than girls – I have no idea – but he was dangerous, and if the softy softly approach HADN’T worked, then I would have lost the one chance anyone in this World had, to defuse that time bomb. I hope this helps you understand why I had to take a firmer approach than you do with Molly, whom I doubt will ever be a physical threat to your life, especially since you don’t live alone.

    • I think that as parents we all know our own children best, what will work for them and what our immediate priorities are. Girls with PDA are as violent as the boys and Mollie was no exception. She was extremely violent and would often attack me while I slept. I tried the hard line approach and she became more violent and less reachable. While she was not old enough to do my serious physical damage I was very concerned of how I would cope with violent outbursts as she grew older. As in your case I have been physically attacked for the most mundane of crimes like asking if she wanted sugar on her cereal. For me stopping the violent meltdowns was my no 1 priority and I did have another child to protect from the violence also. Knife throwing was not uncommon and everything sharp was put in a safe. For me an alternative approach, based on PDA management guidelines but fine tuned for Mollie, worked faster and provided me with better results than my previous approaches had. However with another child this may not be the case and my approach may actually make things worse. Your approach has worked for your son and so it has been the right and a successful approach for you. There is no right and wrong I simply think that as parents we all find our own unique routes to problem solve with the same shared goal at the end of it.

  6. Elderberry Arts said:

    Reblogged this on Elderberry Days.

  7. Elderberry Arts said:

    I have a 7 year old who has PDA, autism and epilepsy (and 17 year old with aspergers and have aspergers myself) Pleased to have found your blog and it seems we share a lot in our approach.

    • We certainly have a lot in common. My daughter, as you know, has PDA originally diagnosed with Asperger’s but it never fitted with me. My 15 year old son is diagnosed with Asperger’s and hubbie is diagnosed with Asperger’s and OCD. I am the odd one out in my house lol. Yes I have had a quick look at yours, will do in more depth as soon as I can and a shared approach seems fairly evident. One size does not fit all and I have learned a hell of a lot during the past few years. Hubbie and son were only diagnosed following my research into ASD and years of them both having many mental health issues xxx

  8. Charlotte said:

    I have been trying to get into Radical Unschooling with my son. He has very severe autism and is prone to aggressive/self injurious behavior. I am worried because I have a young daughter. My son was not like this before but he changed. I took him out of school and have found that having similar rules at home only triggered the same behavior. So instead I try to let him do whatever he wants as long as it is nothing that absolutely can not be done. The thing I have to work on is my response to non-negotiable behaviors. I notice that by not getting worked up about whatever he does he is less prone to hitting. I also notice that the more freedom I allow him the more civilized he behaves. Even if I have to put him in his room I have started giving him plenty of things he likes to do including an ipad so that he can see it as a positive place rather than a negative one. The only thing I want him to see is that hitting others is non-negotiable. After that I will pick the bone more about his hand biting. I do wonder if he is fulfilling a need by biting his hand as opposed to other things that he refuses to accept as an alternative. I don’t think he feels the pain and the oil I apply helps a lot with the scarring. I am however looking into trying cbd oil to treat him overall.

    • Hi Charlotte, I am please to hear that by allowing your son more freedom that he appears to be responding and is less violent and more civil. Not hitting was also one of my non negotiable boundaries but it wasn’t a behaviour that I could discipline out of her. I just used to reinforce that hitting wasn’t ok and try to help her find alternative ways of releasing her aggression. Over time and with maturing years the violence did eventually subside although I am sure that this was mainly due to the alternative environment that we provided her with. Hopefully the same will be true in your case and the different environment that your son has will naturally help him to decrease any violence. Over the hand biting this isn’t something that I have personally experienced with Mollie. It could be a sensory need that may be helped with offering chewy alternatives although you already appear to have done this. It could also be a form of self harm which helps to relieve building anxiety in a less destructive way than lashing out. Hopefully as he becomes calmer and continues to benefit from a less stressful environment this may also be a feature that steadily reduces down of its own accord. Good luck in your journey and I hope that you continue to see progress xxxx

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