Your child might be the model school pupil when there, they might be extremely intelligent, they might have a lot of friends, and it might elude you as to why they struggle so much to go. As a sufferer, I can certainly confirm that it's more complex than 'getting ready' and going. Here's a (by no means exhaustive) list of demands your child faces before they even arrive at the school gates!
- Go to sleep the night before (despite high anxiety about the morning)
- Wake up (after very little sleep)
- Get out of bed (even though you're about to face your worst nightmare)
- Use toilet
- Wash hands
- Brush teeth (wetting the toothbrush, adding toothpaste and brushing are all three demands here)
- Wash face
- Brush hair
- Put on socks and underwear
- Put on shirt
- Put on trousers/skirt
- Go downstairs
- Make breakfast
- Eat breakfast
- Grab school bag and equipment
- Put on shoes
- Leave the house
- Get in the car/walk to school
Before even getting to school, your child has faced around twenty demands, never mind the ones they'll face when they're actually at school- in a time limit, which is also terrifying, it's no wonder most children with PDA have the school morning meltdowns the way they do. Whilst it's still going to be a difficult process for your child (and you), here are some tips, some of which helped me, and others that have occurred to me post-diagnosis:
- Try to limit the demands as much as possible; is it really that essential that your child washes their face on a morning? Do they really need to brush their hair? Will making their breakfast for them, or making a breakfast they can eat in the car impact on your life that much? Because these simple things make it a lot easier to cope with, as the demand becomes a little less intense.
- Consider the time you wake your child up extremely carefully. I personally, preferred to wake up 30 minutes before leaving the house in primary school, and between 10 and 20 minutes in high school (albeit I occasionally missed my bus). By doing so, I had less time to dwell on the anxiety of the approaching time, and was more in a mad dash to get ready, so spent less time thinking and dwelling, as well as getting a little more sleep, of which I was already deprived- bonus!
- Whilst many schools might not approve or condone this plan, it's something that helped me... Allow your child to be late. Time frames have always been terrifying for me; demands are bad enough, but when they have a time limit, the pressure increases! Once I was regularly around 10 minutes late for school, and grew used to it, it seemed like less of a problem going in. I had anxiety about walking into the classroom late, however it made my mornings feel more relaxed if I knew that the world wouldn't explode if I was a little late. It's more important that your child can cope emotionally and make it to school happier, than being on time and having a meltdown, in my opinion. Be careful though; if given too much leeway, your child may begin to think school is entirely optional.
- Maybe, depending on their age, get ready with your child- I was always so overwhelmed by the prospect of getting ready and going to school, that I felt paralysed. If you put your socks on at the same time as them, it demonstrates that it's safe, and is encouraging and more like a group activity than a demand solely for them.
As hard as it is, and in whatever way your child expresses your distress, it's important that you remain calm, and empathetic. What is happening for them is beyond their control, and they don't know how to express it- they know it's unavoidable. They might be aware that they "don't like being told what to do," but know this isn't a socially accepted excuse, but they may also be completely clueless as to why they're reacting like this. They may try every excuse, to try to appear more reasonable, but you know it's PDA, not that they 'don't feel well.' Try to offer as much reassurance as possible that it's 'safe' to comply with demands, and that it's okay that they feel this way. Ask them if there's anything that would make their morning routine feel more relaxed and easy. Don't offer incentives (see previous post), however maybe going for a hot chocolate in a local coffee shop before school would make them less anxious. Obviously punishments are not only futile but are counter-productive in this situation.
Good luck, I'm sending sympathy to all PDA parents who have to deal with mornings that were anything like mine!