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PDA: What are we lookin' for here?

What does PDA look like in non-speakers and people with Intellectual Disability?

Well, we don’t really know, because:

-People with Intellectual Disability (ID) and non-speakers aren’t always included in what little research there is about PDA.

-While official guidance on PDA acknowledges that someone with ID can also be PDA, there is little to no guidance on what that might look like.

-In two of the five “key features,” there is a heavy emphasis on the use of social strategies and appearing to have good social abilities, something that is not usually associated with non-speakers or ID (however wrong that may be).

-In one of the “key features,” there is much talk of things like good verbal ability, verbal fluency, early language delay with quick catch up, and being skilled communicators, none of which could apply to a non-speaker who does not yet have a robust form of alternative communication.

Online spaces aren’t much more help.

-There is very little discussion of PDA in non-speakers or people with ID in online support groups either, whether from parents or PDAers themselves. Discussions of communication struggles are usually around younger children or refusal to engage.

-There is widespread belief that PDAers are also “high masking” (even appearing in the official guidance), which isn’t how most people think of ID or non-speaking people (including clinicians).

-So much weight is given to the use of elaborate avoidance strategies and high verbal skills that there is a popular belief that PDA is associated with “giftedness.”

-Some have even said they don’t think PDA could co-occur with ID because “how could they even have a strong sense of autonomy or be socially engaging?”

Which leads us to even more questions:

Are non-speakers and people with ID being left out of current PDA narratives?

Are people in these populations being denied proper identification and support as a result?

Is it possible that there are problems with the current PDA criteria themselves?

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