Over 240 adults attended, from all walks of life, but with one thing in common; the desire to learn and understand more about Pathological Demand Avoidance. The hugely positive feedback received by the team all day during and after the event suggests that the objective was achieved, and in style!
Lucy (my roomie) and I arrived the day before the event to help out, but to be honest everything had been organised so brilliantly, from the individualised planner check-in sheets, to the table plans (genius to try and group families from the same geographical areas together!), and down to the lovely finishing touches such as ribbons at every place setting, that we knew there wouldn't be any major problems on the day.
The conference kicked off with a slide show of PDA family pictures along to the music track by Kelly Clarkson - 'what doesn't kill you makes you Stronger'. The theme of the conference was 'Stronger Together'. Committee members came up with the great idea to provide paper chains on all tables; attendees were then asked to write on them anything which made them stronger. Examples such as family members, or coffee and biscuits were given - hubby of Living Life Our Way blog writer suggested 'days like these' which I thought summed the day up beautifully.
Founder member of the PDA Society, Margo Duncan, took to the stage to introduce the first speaker; Phil Christie, the man who worked with Elizabeth Newson and who knows all there is to know about PDA. His speech theme was the 'State of the Nation' and he talked through a short history of how we have got to this conference, followed by discussing where PDA sits under the banner of Pervasive Development Disorders* (now known as Autism Spectrum Disorders, although this is not a term which is in the manuals) and then onto looking at diagnostic criteria for PDA (listed here on the PDA Society website). He noted how the National Autistic Society has recently updated its information, agreeing that PDA is best understood as one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders.
(*that diagram can be found in the list of extra resources here or on my last blog post discussing PDA and ODD)
He was followed by a very positive presentation on Resilience for Life by Dr Jo Clarke, who is apparently the only person in the UK who is trained and licensed to present The Explosive Child Strategies. I suspect she will be in huge demand for a long time to come! Other speakers included Jane Sherwin, who wrote the book My Daughter Is Not Naughty and Neville Starnes, producer of the Blue Millicent videos which have helped so many. Both of these individuals are experts in PDA; I heard so many comments saying each of them was inspiring and that sharing their stories has really helped others. A special shout-out (did I really just use those words?!) from me to Max who appeared on the Born Naughty programme recently; I applaud her loudly for also sharing her story very publicly and it was such a pleasure to meet her finally.
In between these speeches there were nine different workshops running during three different session times. They were: Resilience, De-escalation techniques, Education Law (thanks to the wonderful Evelyn Ashford), Sensory Issues, Siblings, Sleep, Working with schools (mainstream) and working with schools (specialist). From what I could see, nearly every session in every time slot was full, and I think thanks to some careful planning, most parents were able to see the ones they had the most interest in (resilience and de-escalation featuring highly at the top of people's lists!).
At the end of the day, the 'Stronger Together' paper chains were linked together and a second video was shown, showing comments from people who wanted to thank others who had helped them along their PDA journey. The paper chains were then sent over heads from the front to the back of the room; an inspired touch which I know lots of attendees will remember for a long time.
Well done to the venue (Park Inn by Radisson in Northampton) which was another great choice; plenty of tea, coffee and snacks, delicious hot and cold buffet and the hotel conference staff were all very willing to help set up exactly as needed as well as deal with last minute matters quickly.
All the committee names and those who helped to start the PDA Society (formerly PDA Contact Group) were mentioned in the video several times over, and all the speakers, but also others such as Jo Jones, Cathy May and ADD-vance, even CAHMS Doncaster which is pretty amazing! It's so good to hear that several professionals are already on board with PDA and after the conference I'm sure more will follow suit.
'It's so good to just be in a room with other parents who get it' is a phrase that has been repeated many times. It may sound dramatic but to not feel alone and to not have your parenting skills challenged but to have them accepted by so many others who understand and who are in the same position is actually life-changing.
The whole event was so inspirational, especially considering the PDA Society is entirely made up of parents who are volunteers and who share the stresses of having children with PDA. I think we should give the team a few days rest before they are asked to start planning the next one..... Special thanks to the committee members Paula, Debra, Tracy, Mark, Neville, Rebecca and Margo who all worked so hard to make this the truly amazing day that it was.
Linking up to the lovely Vic who I am sure will like this, over at #PoCoLo :)