PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance

Pathological Demand Avoidance (a part of the autism spectrum) is much better known about now than it was a few years ago, but it is still not as widely understood as it should be. The name makes it sound closer to a disease, or a mental health issue, but it isn`t – in fact it is a type of autism.  Demand avoidance is when someone with autism will have a hard time following even the most basic of requests. They can fight over anything, however small it might seem to others.  This has led to people with PDA being thought of as rude and ignorant over the years.  But what is the real cause?  What is it that feels so bad about being told what to do?

In a lot of cases people talk about having a logical view of following instructions; they will do what they are asked as long as it seems fair, and makes sense to them. Now in some cases this is a good thing, and it`s worth people learning that they don’t have to do something if it makes them feel bad, or they think it`s wrong.  But sometimes the person with PDA might have got it wrong. They might think that doing something a certain way will not work, and therefore refuse to even try it.

Along with this is a belief a lot of people with autism share, that the rules of society which puts some people above others are flawed. This can be a leading cause in clashes between people with autism, and teachers for example.  At any other time an individual refusing to let someone go to the bathroom, or talk to their friend would be considered wrong, but once the autistic person steps in to the classroom they have to fit in to a whole new set of rules. What was wrong is now right, and people are not equal in the same way as in the outside world. This can seem deeply unfair to a logical autistic mind.

What the person with PDA is being asked to do might mean changing a plan at short notice. Some people with autism will plan out everything.  They might not voice it to anyone else, but they might know what they plan to do for the rest of the day. This may be something as simple as resting for half an hour, or planning to go on the computer.  If they are asked to do something else this will change the plan.  They might be unable to explain how this makes them feel to whoever is talking to them, and therefore simply refuse to do what they are being asked to do. Change at short notice can lead to meltdowns anyway, and this can be worsened in people with PDA as is a lot of the anxiety that goes along with it. 

People with autism will often feel a need to be in control of their environment.  This is not because they are controlling or nasty people, it is because the world around them is confusing and hard, and the best way to make it easier is to take control wherever possible.  By saying what they will and will not do, they can take a level of control. What might look like spoiled and petulant behaviour can actually be a way of attempting to make sense of a difficult, and confusing world.

PDA is not something that is easy for everyone to understand, and to some it looks like a way of trying to cover up bad behaviour, but this is just not the case.  It is very real and affects not only children, but also adults with autism.  PDA is nothing like being badly behaved, and like everything that comes with autism there is a very clear point, and reason for it.  Trying to understand what this is for the individual is a key way of helping them to deal with their PDA.  In most cases it will be an attempt to apply logic, or to take control of a situation that is difficult to handle.  Keeping this in mind can help both the autistic person, and those around them deal with this better

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