PDA And Language

What kind of language might be considered to be PDA friendly?

Language that is underpinned by understanding, respect and acceptance of children’s individuality, is much more likely to be PDA friendly. 

The language we use reflects our authentic meaning.  Carefully choosing words in order “to get” something to happen, will be detected by our astute and attuned children. 

Incongruent communication creates uncertainty and anxiety and is at odds with our children’s need for truth.

It is important that we find authentic and organic phrases that are for our children and not simply lifted from a “textbook” approach.

That said, reflecting on working examples can help us to consider how we communicate with our children and how we might start to modulate our approach.

I have found it really helpful to notice which phrases land more easily for our son, as well as to pay attention to the phrases that elicit a stress response, so that we can make sure we avoid the latter.

At the most basic level, we noticed very early on that using the word NO elicited a very strong response in our son and that this word needed to be avoided at all costs. No child likes to be told No, but for some children the word NO is not just difficult, it is incredibly threatening.

Some exemplars of PDA friendly phrases, that may help spark further ideas and reflections on this topic include:

  • Sharing our thoughts out loud, such as:

I’m wondering …
I noticed that…
I was thinking we could…
I had an idea about…

  • Using open invitations can be less anxiety inducing than suggestions or prompts.
  • Use of the word we is also really helpful.

We could choose a game to play together.

  • Using declarative language.

Declarative language invites discussion rather than demanding it. It helps put the listener at ease and promotes a sense of relationship through the sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas.

Declarative language can be thought of as a form of commentary. It is a non threatening way of creating shared experiences through descriptive language.

Declarative language can be used to share knowledge in a relaxed and open way.

Declarative language can also reduce power imbalances in relationships, such as the parent-child or teacher-student relationship, where an inherent power imbalance exists.

The infographic below provides a basic overview of how declarative language differs from other common types of language.

By contrast, direct questions, prompts and demands put immense pressure on the nervous system and can feel very threatening.

I found it interesting to reflect on how I used to use declarative language automatically with my peers, but less so with children. Making this necessary shift in my communication has definitely helped my son. Declarative Language can be a much less demanding form of communication. It is less directive and invites engagement.

It is not a way to get compliance, it is a gentle and respectful way of approaching tasks and activities, using language that is less likely to trigger anxiety and panic.

Declarative language is just one layer of a PDA friendly approach, but it is an important one to explore.

Outside of the use of declarative language, I have found that well worded questions, within narratives that are otherwise dominated by declarative language are more readily received.

Here are some examples of simple statements using declarative language and some examples of ‘PDA Friendly’ questions.

Reflecting on the language we use with our children, is just one part of our connection with them.  It is yet another part of the rich tapestry that contributes to relational safety.

For more information, you are very welcome over at:

By Jessica Matthews

Writer, home educator and Autistic advocate, with specialisations in psychology, polyvagal theory, Autistic / neurodivergent wellbeing.
BACP Integrative therapist, Post Grad training in Clinical Psychology , BSC Psychology Hons degree.

5 replies on “PDA And Language”

I have worked for many years now with autism – mainly high functioning, but also with other types like PDA. This article on changing the language is exactely my approach. I call my work, Organic Disentanglement. It is true that the declarative language you have identified is very much the key. Tell me if the following also rings true for you? There is a deeper level even than language, but which language must support and it is the level of trust. Gaining trust is a slow but deliberate process, of showing one’s humanity, one’s vulnerability, one’s imperfection because it is how we are. We choose to striving for excellence and truth and fairness and we make that explicit in a kind and respectful way. This gives a message of permission to the other. Permission to be imperfect. It refocuses from product to process, growth, empathy, alignment and this dynamic relationship builds the trust. Slow, step by step, moment by moment, over a long period of time so that layers and networks of brain plasticity and connection grow in organically. The process is non-formulaic. It is human, sensitive to the other, more like a dance where creative responses interact with receptive responses and the lead changes back and forth. The lens of every moment through which we interact and relate, focuses our eye, our attention, on building trust. If people use sarcasm, irony, parody, sattire, metaphor etc, it sends double signals to the brain of the other. If they are autistic, it causes degrees of confusion and undermines sending waves of ‘threat’. I appreciate your research and your articles. They are crucial for evolution of humanity. It is my work too.


Yes, the deeper level is trust!! SO important! I always thank my 22 yo asd/pda son for trusting me!! We’ve accomplished so much with that. He trusts me because he knows I understand him because I’ve worked on it. AND, mutual respect based on self advocacy and boundaries set over time. He has a part time job in our community and I couldn’t be more proud of him!


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