Radical Unschooling

#100 Days of Home Ed…Day 20

Wow…one-fifth of the way there. And I still have LOADS to say about home educating a special needs child, especially one with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). In fact, I believe that it is the best (and perhaps only) way for SuperHero/aliens like my beloved PanKwake.

Oh, another small victory last night. Remember me complaining about how much she was keeping me up the other day? And how proud I was that she REALLY understood what it was doing to me…and apologized? A sign that she was developing REAL empathy rather than the superficial kind associated with PDA. It got even better last night. She actually WAITED until I had gotten up to go to the bathroom before asking for food! Now that is truly remarkable progress.

But back to the HOW we got to this point…

Yesterday, we talked about the importance of CHOOSING YOUR BATTLES

Today, I want to cover three of the ones from the PDA Society list:

  • Don’t take it personally.
  • Treat every day as a fresh start.
  • Recognize anxiety as the driver for avoidance/behaviors.

I want to cover all three today because in my mind at least they are inseparably linked. But I want to look at them in a slightly different order. One that builds from the ground up. So let’s begin with…

Recognize anxiety as the driver…

Anxiety.

Sensory overload.

And that is the hardest thing for parents to get…to understand. Simply because of the intense pressure and anxiety creating stress that society places upon us to control these monsters, make our children behave.

I know. I understand. I live it.

But let me help you to put this into perspective…

Seven years ago I had a miscarriage that left me clinically depressed with anxiety and panic attacks. I was forty-five years old with a BS in Health Education, including a background in psychology. I had been through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and learned all kinds of positive self-talk and coping strategies. I had managed multi-million dollar accounts, babysat drunk celebrities and planned parties in the country estate of Duke…

And yet one day I found myself wandering the streets of London with my heart pounding, my chest so tight that I could barely breathe, my palms cold and clammy, everything around me was painfully loud and bright…and my whole body was shaking with great sobs that I could not stop.

This educated, once highly successful woman with all these ‘coping strategies’ could NOT cope. That is anxiety. That is a panic attack. It does not matter who you are or were. Where you have been or who/what you know.

In that moment you are helpless and out-of-control. Even…especially…your own control.

So a couple of years later when I read in Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance by Phil Christie et al that meltdowns in my daughter were not temper tantrums (I knew that much already…but not what they were) but rather PANIC ATTACKS, I cried. I sat on our couch and cried my eyes out in guilt for all the things I had tried/done to stop her.

It was one of those light bulb moments in life when I realized…

If I as an educated forty-five year old woman, I could not control myself during a panic attack, how the H-E-double hockey sticks could I expect a six year old (at that time) little girl to?

Once you truly get this one…then the next one is easy.

Don’t take it personally…

But I understand how difficult this one can be. Almost everything that we hear from the parenting ‘experts’ makes this a war. Us against them. Things like…

  • He is always pushing the boundaries. (As we talked about…maybe those boundaries are unrealistic.)
  • She just has to have her way. (Or is it rather you who assumes that your way is the only one?)
  • I swear that child is going to be the death of me. (Let’s hope so…the death of false assumptions anyway.)

Like I said, Us versus Them. And the only way to win the approval of your own parents (who did this to you…and likely killed your dreams and broke your spirit), your peers and most definitely the screwed up society in which we live is…

For You To Win…

At all costs. 

Even and especially the breaking of your child’s spirit.

And your own sanity.

That may seem strange to you. But the truth is that when you can adopt the same ‘devil may care’ attitude that comes naturally to our children, when you learn to just roll with the punches, when you start to think collaboratively and creatively about how to guide and lead your little alien, not break them…you will find that parenting is actually…

FUN!

Yes, I shocked that whole room of PDA parents at that conference when they asked for a single word that described life with Pathological Demand Avoidance.

FUN!!!!

But once you truly surrender and as the bible says ‘turn your sword into plough sheers’ with your child… When YOU decide (and as the adult ONLY you can make that choice) that life is NOT a constant war with your child…it can be…

FUN!!!!!

Your child is not your enemy.

The ‘experts’ are. Society may be. Even your peers and parents…but especially all those nosey people on the street that without knowing a single thing about PDA, you or your child decide to judge you. Those are your ‘enemies’. Not your child.

Let’s look at those three sleepless nights I had…

I could have (and many parents would have)…tried to force her to MY will. I could have screamed and yelled. Or punished her.

Why can’t you just go to sleep like a normal child? No, I am not making you waffles at this time of the night. You don’t deserve another app on your iPad. You don’t use all the ones you already have. 

Heck, someone even wrote a book on the subject…

Oh yes! Go the F**k To Sleep! (ROFLMAO)

But what would THAT have gotten me?

The evidence is CLEAR…those on the autism spectrum often do not have the same circadian rhythm as others do. This list of scholarly papers is nothing compared to the stories that autism parents share on forums and in support groups. But it does give credence to those anecdotal evidence.

My choices were simple. Make this a battle. Or make this a joke. 

So I made it a joke. Yes, one that communicated my needs too. One that clearly communicated to my child that I did not blame her…but the autism. One that built our bonds and formed bridges, rather than burned them.

And what did I get this time? An apology. A recognition of my feelings. And even some sort of attempt to make my life easier.

But that was five years in coming, folks.

Nonetheless, that tactic illustrates the importance of that final piece of today’s puzzle…

Treat every day as a fresh start…

Actually, they are off a bit with this one too. It should actually say…

Treat every MOMENT as a fresh start…

And this one, folks, is perhaps the absolutely HARDEST part of my whole strategy. To understand why…

Oh, heck…let’s take that one up tomorrow…this blog is too long already. Oh well, as life with PDA will teach you (if you let it)…

ALWAYS BE FLEXIBLE!!!!

(Hmmm…I may have to add that one to the PDA Society list for this blog…)

 

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