Below is the author’s copy of a book review of a recent book by Ruth Fidler and Phil Christie. The original book review is published via an open access license at the journal, Autism Policy & Practice, this version can be accessed via the link below:


Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA: Strategies for Education Professionals, by Ruth Fidler and Phil Christie. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2018, 176pp., £13.99 (paperback), ISBN: 9781785920172.


“Exactly who has a “pathological” need to control whom?” (Milton 2017, p35).


Is a question asked of those utilising PDA theory, this book by PDA’s leading advocates goes far to answering Milton’s question.


Superficially, this book is a welcome addition to the PDA literature; providing the latest thoughts and working practices to educational professionals, as advised by 2 experienced and knowledgeable clinicians. There are detailed strategies that are clear and coherent, including downloadable resources.


At the heart of a “Collaborative approach to learning” is an emphasis on the transactional nature of interactions and on often the negative consequences to those working with certain pupils. Suggested strategies include working together with all stakeholders to work with the strengths of students to enable them to access education by reducing their anxiety. Particularly, placing the student centrally in decision making, this is not to say the learner is in charge and the author’s supply many subtle methods of controlling the child. Additionally, there is a strong focus on emotional resilience & wellbeing of the pupils, also inventive solutions to the challenges that the pupils can often present


A weakness is a lack of contextualising of their strategies in wider education and autism strategies discourses, for instances see Milton (2017) & Woods (2018; 2019). This was an opportunity to compare PDA strategies against comparable practices, like the SPELL (Structure, Positive, Empathy, Low Arousal & Links) Framework (Milton 2014) and inquiry-based learning. The latter being more frequently practiced on all types of students. Or, crucially contrasting PDA strategies against those advocated by its critiques; for appropriate examples see Murray (2016), McDonnell and Milton (2014).


Fidler and Christie justify not engaging with critique by stating the book is not a place discussing PDA controversies and directs readers onto references in the first chapter. Conversely, there are no critical texts cited or even a modern overview of PDA presented, for that see Woods (2019). Furthermore, suitable literature discussing PDA strategies are also omitted (Carlile 2011; Harvey 2012; Jones 2005; Russell 2018). While insisting on their various stances; such as a broader debate is a distraction from diagnosing PDA, is highly concerning due to the  implications of this stance; parents are using PDA as a proxy for requesting strategies (Green et al 2018) and potentially non-autistic persons being diagnosed as autistic due to primary reliance on questionnaires & non-specific caregiver reports (Lord et al 2018).


A major anxiety relates the language used to distinguish autism from PDA, with autism being “more straightforward”; what exactly is straightforward autism? What exactly is complex autism? Pertinently, at the time of their writing, the author’s positions are increasingly tenuous (Green et al 2018; Milton 2017; Woods 2018). This maybe an attempt to erase divergent perspectives from the PDA discourse; lending credence to critical scholarship (Milton 2017; Woods 2017; 2018).


Responding to the initial question, the book indicates a certain viewpoint. Vitally, these strategies are applicable to other persons.

Carlile, J. (2011). Helping your child with PDA to play: eight strategies for supporting a child with Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome at home. Good Autism Practice, 13(2), 51-55. Retrieved from: (Accessed 08 April 2019).

Green, J., Absoud, M., Grahame, V., Malik, O., Simonoff, E., Le Couteur, A., & Baird, G. (2018b). Demand avoidance is not necessarily defiance: Authors’ reply. Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, 2 (9), e21. DOI:

Harvey, T. (2012). The educational issues for the child with a diagnosis of Pathological Demand Avoidance. Good Autism Practice, 13(1), 9-12. Retrieved from: (Accessed 08 April 2019).

Jones, E. (2005). Developing independence through the use of a colour-coded system with a fifteen-year-old pupil with a diagnosis of Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome (PDA) in a mainstream school. Good Autism Practice, 6(1), 51-53.

Lord, C., Elsabbagh, M., Baird, G., & Veenstra-Vanderweele, J. (2018). Autism spectrum disorder. Lancet, 2018(392), 508-520. DOI:

McDonnell, A., and Milton, D. (2014). Going with the flow: Reconsidering ‘repetitive behaviour’ through the concept of ‘flow states’. Good Autism Practice, Supplement (2014), 37-46.

Milton, D. (2014). So what exactly are autism intervening with? Good Autism Practice, 15(2), 6-14. Retrieved from: (Accessed 08 April 2019).

Milton, D. (2017). “Natures answer to over-conformity”: deconstructing Pathological Demand Avoidance. In Milton, D. (Ed.), A Mismatch of Salience: Explorations of the nature of autism from theory to practice (pp 27-38). Hove, UK: Pavilion Publishing and Media Limited.

Murray, D. (2016). How to be equals, as required by the Care Quality Commission. In Milton D., and Martin, D. (Eds.), Autism and Intellectual Disability in Adults: Volume1, 2016 (pp 69-74). Hove, UK: Pavilion Publishing and Media Limited.

Russell, S. (2018). Being Misunderstood: Experiences of the Pathological Demand Avoidance Profile of ASD (Online report). Retrieved from: (Accessed 28 November 2018).

Woods, R. (2017). Pathological demand avoidance: my thoughts on looping effects and commodification of autism. Disability & Society, 32(5), 753-758. DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2017.1308705

Woods, R. (2018). Rational (Pathological) Demand Avoidance: What it is not, what it could be & what it does (Conference paper). Retrieved from: (Accessed 08 April 2019_.

Woods, R. (2019). Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). In Volkmar, F. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders. New York: Springer Nature. DOI:

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