Pathological Demand Syndrome is increasingly being recognised as being on the autistic spectrum. People with PDA will avoid demands made by others, due to their high anxiety levels when they feel that they are not in control. One mum, Deborah Rourke, has written for Special Needs Jungle about her son, who has been diagnosed with PDA and their fight for support. It’s a heart-breaking story. Please share it as widely as you can to raise awareness of PDA.
From day one, my son suffered from a bloating and stomach pains, which meant for the first two years of his life he only cat napped for a couple of hours at a time; this extreme tiredness felt like torture. When he was almost 10 months old, a doctor suspected he might have Hirschsprung’s disease, which led to him under-going a bowel biopsy and a barium x-ray, results of which thankfully were both negative, but the experience had taken its toll and left him suffering further distress.
He was referred to a dietician when he was 26 months old who suggested I put him on a wheat free, gluten free diet. Less wheat did help a little with the bloating; after a while I put him back on a normal diet reducing his wheat intake. My son had terrible outbursts due to frustration and confusion, head banging on floor, biting, hitting, grabbing and hurling anything he could reach.
His speech was poor; by 19 months he had four words and by 24 months it had increased to around eight. His hearing tests were all good. He used to point for things he wanted, or led me by the hand. His speech started to improve slowly from the age of three. He also had difficulties with his gross motor skills (balance, stepping over objects, hoping, running), an occupational assessment put this down to poor gross motor skills and a stiff gait in his left leg. Mother and toddler groups were a nightmare due to his aggression – he was like a whirlwind of destruction which, of course, resulted in complaints from other parents. This continued on into nursery, where he was put on School Action Plus.
Home life became difficult, in so many ways. His sister, four years older, struggled with the constant crying and meltdowns from her brother, other family members struggled to understand and put his behaviour down to terrible 2,3,4’s, some friends stopped seeing us as they didn’t want him playing with their children due to his aggression. Hairline cracks within my marriage grew into a canyon and I struggled to know what to do for the best.
My son was initially diagnosed with speech and language delay. He first attended a mainstream school with a speech and language unit attached, after only one week he had been permanently excluded on grounds of health and safety the other children. Another smaller mainstream school offered to take him, they even helped to get his statement of needs relooked at, and he was given a full-time one to one teaching assistant. However, after almost four weeks and several incidences, the school admitted they were also unable to cope.
Another doctor assessed my son, she recognised that he had autistic tendencies combined with speech disorder. His statement was adjusted to better meet his needs and then began the search for another school. During that time he remained at home.
So many times I was told, “Your son’s not autistic he gives eye contact”. Other times I was asked, “Does that mean your son is really intelligent?” But more difficult to hear was, “He’s just strong willed, a good smack on the bottom will sort him” A local special needs school was found, actually it was a unit attached to an EBD (emotional behaviour disorder) school. With only five children in the class, one teacher and two assistants, I hoped things would work out for him, it certainly looked that way to begin with.
Then the calls started… “Um, it’s your son’s school here, he’s not having a good day; can you come and get him?” This went on and on, not only was this very negative and disruptive for my son, I repeatedly had to take more time off work. I also saw an increase in his meltdowns, and unfortunately the copying from other boys of inappropriate words (such a the F word). A new term, with new staff, resulted in an incident and once again he was excluded.
After an emergency review meeting, which raised areas of failings by the school, we were back to square one. After three separate school exclusions from three different types of schools, I had to give up my job for a third time. He remained at home for eight months whilst being rejected by many schools. The autistic specific schools we viewed didn’t seem suitable, as his autism was mild. Other schools turned him down because he was unable to access the curriculum, and many schools rejected him because of his aggression.
After a CAMHS report, a Meath School private disability assessment, a battle with the County Council SEN department regarding their failings, an Ombudsman investigation, a newspaper article, some campaigns involving letters to my local MP, amongst others, eventually a new school was found, but is ‘out of county’.
Where are we today now that my son is nine years old?… My son has a condition called Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome, which is increasingly recognised as part of the autistic spectrum. He is mentally five years old, with Speech Language Communication Disorder and Dyslexic. He is still unable to access the curriculum, struggles to comprehend simple requests, has no concept of time, suffers from IBS and struggles to understand social play.
He currently goes to a special needs boy’s school who have some experience with ASD, EBD, ADHD, ODD etc. But more importantly, they have a flexible manner with an open-minded approach in a nurturing, calm and inclusive environment. To-date, both my son and his school teachers/carers are coping well and learning from each other every day. But it isn’t plain sailing, as his school is in another county and because it’s almost an hours drive away.
There were problems with travelling back and forth daily, so he is currently weekly boarding at the school, the same as the majority of the other boys. There has been much heartache for me, letting go and trusting in others to care for and understand my beautiful boy, although it now helps being able to telephone him every evening. I also worry about the possible increase in his anxiety levels due to separation from the family.
There certainly have been some positives, my daughter is calmer and happier and we have respite time together during the week and it has been lovely to be able to focus 100% on her for the first time in years. Although the children’s father and I have separated, we remain living near each other, have become good friends and he has a wonderful relationship with his children and is fully involved in their lives. We both feel that our son has given us the opportunity to look at life with huge appreciation for the things that many people take for granted.
Our son has been our teacher, we have learned the art of patience, acceptance, to be open-minded, to look closely at ourselves and how to interact in a new way with both our children. My son helped me to realise who I am and what I am capable of; he gave me my voice, he helped me find my inner spirit, strength and passion, and has made me a better person. I am a strong advocate for autism and am in relentless pursuit to raise awareness about PDA.
What can PDA look like…
- Panic attacks /challenging behaviour:
Aggressive outbursts, kicking, biting, spitting, hitting, swearing, screaming, throwing things (fight or flight, often with no obvious triggers)
- Communication abnormalities:
Echolalic speech, literal understanding of speech, neologisms (using idiosyncratic words instead of conventional speech), language disorder to varying degrees, inappropriate speech for social context
- Social communication:
Inappropriate play, lack of turn taking and difficulty understanding social rules and requests, difficulties knowing how to react to another person’s behaviour, difficulties accepting that there may be other perspectives, not just a single perspective, limited gesturing
- Rigid thinking
- Accumulative levels of stress
- High anxiety and low self esteem
- Sensory issues / overstimulation, materials, noise, sunlight, temperature, food
Early History of PDA Elizabeth Newson first began to look at PDA as a specific syndrome in the 1980′s when certain children referred to the Child Development Clinic at Nottingham University appeared to display and share many of the same characteristics. These children had often been referred because they seemed to show many autistic traits but were not typical in their presentation like those with classical autism or Asperger Syndrome because of the child’s imaginative ability, especially in non-echolalic role play; often the child seemed unusually sociable, though in an “odd” way, and language development was atypical of autism and less pragmatically disordered than in Asperger’s syndrome. They had often been labelled as ‘Atypical Autism‘ or Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified. Both of these terms were felt by parents to be unhelpful. She wrote up her findings in several papers based on increasingly larger groups of children. This culminated in a proposal for PDA being recognised as a separate syndrome within the Pervasive Developmental Disorders in 2003 published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood.
http://www.pdacontact.org.uk/ | http://www.facebook.com/groups/7165353156/ | http://adc.bmj.com/content/88/7/595.full | http://advocate4pda.wordpress.com/2012/02/05/wikipedia-for-pda/ | http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwtkzBoY01M
Above is a photo of my wonderful son, and below, a photo taken at the National Autistic Society Spectrum Ball, where Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) kindly agreed to have pictures taken to help raise awareness for children with Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome.