School – a place where a bunch of kids are placed into a room and told they have to do certain activities to learn skills that may or may not be needed in their future lives.
For kids, school can be incredibly hard. It’s a place full of sensory difficulties, social struggles, loss of control, lots of change and strict routine. Many kids love school and thrive in it’s environment, but few of these are PDAers. For kids that need adaptability, controlled change, control over activities, lots of space and downtime, school can be full of difficulties which can make it extremely hard and for some, dangerous.
Some PDA kids mask their difficulties and differences, they appear to be managing okay but they let all their frustrations out once home in their safe place. This makes it hard for schools to see any problems and hard for them to put accommodations in place. Some schools refuse to accept their may be an issue because the child appears ‘fine’ and they blame the parents for the child’s behaviour outside of school. Some kids mask at home and let it all out at school and some kids don’t mask at all, meaning schools can see the problems but even with appropriate accommodations school may still be simply too hard for the child to manage. Some kids can end up suspended from school or excluded, some end up in special schools for SEND kids or behaviour problems, sometimes this makes things worse for the child and sometimes it helps.
Many parents home school their children either because they see it as a better option, they think it better suits the child or because the child just can’t manage school so it’s the only option left. There are a lot of PDA children faring much better home schooled because they have more control, the environment is better for their sensory needs, they socialise on their own terms and in smaller groups if preferable, they learn things they need to know, will use and are interested in and at their own pace or a pace which suits them. There are many positives for home schooling but not every family is able to take this option.
There are many different types of schools too, some are stricter, some are more flexible, some have knowledge of SEND and readily accommodate, some don’t, some have relaxed/reduced timetables where needed, some have smaller class sizes, some have no classes, some have a fixed timetable and curriculum, some are entirely child-led, some are faith schools, some aren’t. There’s a wide variety out there but not all are available and some are select in who they let apply.
So what does a PDA family to do? Many try mainstream or are mainstreamed before they realise the child has difficulties. This may or may not work for them. Some have tried mainstream and it’s failed their child or the child just hasn’t been able to cope. Some have always homeschooled or gone to a non-mainstream school and it’s worked for their child. Whatever the circumstances, the family will know what works and what doesn’t for the child/ren.
It’s very important that whatever learning environment the child/ren are in that the people working with them fully understand the child’s individual needs and are willing to accommodate in every way possible. This is especially essential for PDA kids because of the specific techniques that are required and the difference of environment in which they thrive. There can be no one-size fits all thinking when it comes to PDA, PDAers can be vastly different to neurotypical children so they require very different managing.
As parents, especially ones who understand the child’s needs, we will advocate for the help our kids need. Sadly all too often this falls on deaf ears. Either intentionally (what do parents know? they’ve only got years of experience working with this specific child after all!) or unintentionally (who knows better than a qualified teacher, parents are too soft/anxious/clingy/helicopter). Many teachers/professionals ignore the parents in favour of their own experience/training/opinion, and while it’s fine to rely on these things it’s also essential that they realise parents do know the child best, they do know what they are talking about and 90% of the time they are right. It would be so much easier if everyone involved with a child collaborated fully and put their egos to one side.
Then of course there are teachers and professionals and parents who do work their best to ensure the child has everything they need, but sometimes it’s just not enough. PDA is a disability and as such sometimes no amount of accommodation can override the child’s difficulties. There’s little people can do at that point except just keep going with what does work, even if that does mean unschooling.
Not everyone learns in the same way either, some PDA children refuse anything that looks like school work, this means the people around them have to teach skills in a way that doesn’t look like teaching. Sometimes not teaching the child anything at all frees them up to learn things by themselves. I’ve heard many instances where a parent or teacher has tried for ages to teach a child to learn something (reading, math, time, toileting) and it’s only when they’ve given up or taken a break from it that the child has suddenly learnt or started learning it by themselves. Learning comes in many forms and not just from school books in a classroom. What we learn isn’t all just maths and english and science, we learn everyday just by being alive and thinking, seeing, hearing, feeling, moving, etc. If a child learns nothing in a school setting that doesn’t mean they know nothing, they may have vast amounts of knowledge in subjects people might not have considered or realised. Afterall, there was no school when humans learnt to read and write, learnt to grow crops and cook food, learnt to sail and fish and swim and make up sports and discover medicine and build so many wonderful things. For some, school doesn’t equal learning, and that’s fine, we just need society to accept that.