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PDA, Easter and other events

Apr 07, 2023

For the PDAer, holidays, birthdays and occasional events can be extremely challenging.

Firstly, there are expectations. The expectation to celebrate, be happy and merry, to receive with thanks and gratitude. To give, to be social and kind, to participate in rituals and to be taken away from our usual comforts or grounding rituals such as screens, gaming, TV, the safety and reprieve of our quiet and safe spaces such as home or our rooms.

These situations can be louder than usual, bring new sensory experiences such as smells, visuals, tactile differences and can set off the threat response for someone who has an actively scanning amygdala (the PDAer).

It's important to remember that however we respond to these events is not who we are or how we choose to behave.

The things we might say, the things we might do..are not of our choosing, no matter how they might appear to be.

Panic for the PDAer can often show up as what appears to be very cool, calm and collected, premeditated behaviour. We might say things that hurt deeply, go for the jugular. We may attack others physically, or harm ourselves or property.

This is panic.

As children and young people, we do not have the capacity to understand these things that erupt from ourselves, and so we internalise shame, remorse and self loathing.

Showing that remorse, apologising, or expressing that we feel deep sorrow and/or shame is not safe either. The brain perceives this as unsafe due to the level of vulnerability involved and prevents us from saying how sorry we are, how scared we are and how confused we are by our own behaviour.

This is significantly impacted when we are reprimanded by an adult who shames us further.

And, from the perspective of a parent and carer, it is significantly challenging NOT to react.

Holidays are challenging for the entire family.

When a child or young person with a PDA profile is suspended in the cycle of balancing (compensating via behaviour in order to achieve a sense of balance and dismantling of perceived power imbalances) and getting into trouble, therefore balancing and getting into trouble; they are frequently unable to access the capacity to function from their prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for making sense of situations, problem solving and finding solutions, comprehension/understanding, controlling reactivity and impulse control, creative thinking and the ability to persevere (just to name a few functions).

When the PDAer is not operating from the prefrontal cortex, they are responding or REACTING from the primal brain. Their responses to their environment (people, places and things) are primitive. Survival focused. These responses will be fast, sharp, often inappropriate, aggressive in nature and at times, harmful to themselves or others.

The less that we are able to show up for them in safety, the more they are exposed to what are perceived as dangerous situations (think school, think being forced into activities that don't feel safe), the more we risk our children being pushed into habitual conditioning.

Habitual conditioning is when the primitive responses are favoured and we see the reactive, survival based behaviour more often.

It is okay for our children to be in their room during easter.
It is okay for our children to be gaming.
It is okay for us to make decisions that are nurturing and capacity building (yes, capacity building by allowing rest and recovery) for our PDA children.
It is okay for us to parent our children in the ways we intuitively feel are right, even when we cannot think of or provide a good enough reason for others.

We are allowed to be gentle and compassionate toward ourselves and our children.
We're allowed to say No to family events, to leave early, or to make whatever decisions we need to keep ourselves safe and well.

Ideas around how Easter should look, or that we're not doing it right or that our lives are not okay because of changes to how we celebrate, or the fact that we don't celebrate is often due to social and cultural conditioning.

Easter is a Christian holiday. Many of us celebrating are not Christian.

You are doing the very best you can, as is your child.

Love to all this Easter.

- KF x

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko: A girl with brown skin wearing a beige jumper, skirt and white socks with white bunny ears and dark, short hair is smiling and covering her eyes with coloured eggs. She is standing and facing the camera.

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