Following on from the success of my recent interview with Phil Christie I’ve now interviewed Ruth Fidler. Ruth is an Education Consultant with over 20 years experience of teaching in an all-age provision for children across the autism spectrum, including experience of working at a leadership level developing good autism practice to meet the needs of an increasingly complex pupil profile. She has a specialism in PDA, interactive approaches and emotional well being. She is also the author of Can I Tell You About PDA? Ruth now works on an independent basis with Phil Christie, details of which can be found HERE. Also Ruth and I are currently writing a book together which will explore the many facets of PDA and their impact on me and my day to day life. Happy reading…..
When did you decide that you wanted to work with children on the spectrum and how did your involvement with PDA begin?
I didn’t make a conscious decision to work with children on the autism spectrum, my work evolved as I enjoyed the opportunities I had to teach more pupils and to spend time developing my interest. I began my teaching career working in inner city schools in the early 90s when a lot of special schools were closing and more children with additional needs were arriving in mainstream classrooms. I soon felt captivated by these extremely unique individuals. I enjoyed their company and loved the rewards of engaging children who are more complex to engage. This then led me to my work in a specialist autism provision where I had the chance over the following 20+ years to get to know a wide range of individuals with autism including many with PDA.
If you could give one piece of advice to a teacher what would that be?
It is extremely hard to give only one piece of advice to teachers working with children and young people with PDA. I could probably summarise it in 3 key points, though, as follows:
1) Make no assumptions. Get to know each individual and try to understand their thinking and behaviour. Do this by collaborating with them as well as with other people who know them well, particularly their families.
2) Allow more processing time. Children with PDA not only need to process the sensory, environmental, social, emotional and teaching information like others with autism, but they also need to process the level of demand being asked of them. As an additional bonus, when we give children more processing time, we also give ourselves more processing time. This can be essential in maintaining co-operation and engagement since we often need to be thinking a few steps ahead of a situation with children with PDA.
3) Be flexible, creative and indirect in your approaches. Prioritise issues to address in collaboration with families and use depersonalised indirect approaches in your work with children.
If you could give one piece of advice to a parent what would that be?
I don’t think it is straightforward to give any parent one piece of advice least of all when parenting some of the most complex children who do not respond well to traditional parenting techniques! I would suggest that they take on board the 3 key points for teachers as well as building collaborative relationships with professionals. It is really important that they have a good understanding of PDA which helps to make sense of their child so that, as they develop strategies that work with their child, they can understand why those strategies work well. I would also say that it is important that they get support and collaboration from friends, family and professionals so that they are not dealing with the challenges their child may bring on their own and so that they can protect the wellbeing of everyone in the family as best as possible.
How helpful do you think a PDA diagnosis is?
What matters most in meeting the needs of a child or young person with PDA is that the people living with them and supporting them understand them. Understanding a child obviously needs to be focused on them as an individual but having a diagnosis can be crucial to being able to make sense of how and why this individual thinks and behaves as they do. Particularly as children mature it is essential that they develop self awareness and positive self esteem. These skills will be enormous assets to them as adults and knowing about their diagnosis will support them to make sense of who they are. In addition, a diagnosis will also provide a route to appropriate strategies and appropriate services. If a child has no diagnosis or is misdiagnosed then lots of time and energies can be wasted in trying different strategies, some of which will not work, without realising why it is that certain approaches are more effective for this individual.
What is your favourite PDA trait?
In my experience, a lot of people with PDA have extraordinarily unique and creative ways of thinking and enjoy interacting using humour. Although there can sometimes be challenges in spending time with people with PDA, they can also be full of great charm and fun.
Do you think ASD training including PDA training should be compulsory in all UK schools?
There is growing awareness of autism as a spectrum condition in schools across the UK and the Autism Education Trust are doing some fantastic work promoting training and embedding good autism practice. In my independent work, I am certainly aware of an increasing number of requests for training and consultancy which has to be a positive step towards better meeting the needs of pupils with PDA whatever their educational setting. It is also pleasing to hear more instances of autism awareness being part of teacher training as well as in many other everyday settings such as cinemas, hospitals, airports, GP surgeries. It is not easy to make any training compulsory at a national level but it has to be encouraging that a greater number of people are being trained and a greater number of organisations are recognising the need for this training. It is equally important however that training is of a high quality and does not stand alone but is followed up by embedding good everyday practice.
Do you think awareness, understanding and recognition of PDA is growing and what more could we do to further it?
There is growing awareness of PDA. Big steps have been made through the recent publications (Jessica Kingsley Publications), national conferences (National Autistic Society), support for families (PDA Society), media coverage (Channel 4/Maverick TV) and by the increasing amount of research being carried out by Liz O’Nions. We have made a lot of progress but we know that we have a long way to go to refine and deepen our understanding of this complex condition. We need to improve awareness in a range of professional circles, to develop services in supporting families, to extend research and to develop broader recognition of strategies which are effective for children with PDA.
I want to say a massive thank you to Ruth for this interview. 💜