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What is PDA?

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) falls on the autistic spectrum, and is a neurodevelopmental disorder, which affects people of all ages. People who are PDA struggle with demands, and have an anxiety driven need for control over their own circumstances and things that are going on around them.

A 'neurotypical' person may feel mild emotions when something happens, however, people who are PDA feel extreme emotions, which can be very distressing to them. For example if a PDAer is told what to do, this could invoke adrenaline, anger, fear, terror or other extreme emotions that cause them to respond in a way that may seem excessive.

Imagine living day to day with these extreme emotions!

Living in this constant state of extreme emotions is tiring for the individual. In order to minimise the trauma caused by these extreme emotions it is vital that the people supporting the young person do all they can to reduce demands and improve quality of life for the young person, in order to protect their mental well-being. When any human feels safe, it is a much better foundation from which to build other skills.

People who are demand avoidant will not only avoid demands from other people, they also struggle to cope with demands that they put upon themselves, this can include things that they want to do but feel unable to. Individuals with PDA tend to be very bright, and on the surface, may appear to not have a disability due to their ability to 'mask'. Their behaviour is often seen as defiant and oppositional. A lack of understanding will often exacerbate the difficulties of a young person with PDA, making them feel less safe and therefore less responsive.

Children with PDA profiles are often described as adults in children’s bodies due to their fiercely independent natures. This stems from the need for autonomy, so PDA children will often prefer to do things independently rather than having things done for them. Traditional parenting and behaviour management strategies can be extremely detrimental to the emotional and metal well-being of an individual with PDA.

People with a PDA profile seem to have better social understanding and communication skills than other autistic profiles. They are often able to use this to their advantage, and tend to be very good at masking their difficulties, which can be exhausting; particularly for young people who are driven by peer acceptance.

PDA was the term first used by Professor Elizabeth Newson in the 1980s, it is not currently included in the diagnostic manual (DSM-V) as a separate diagnosis. Ongoing research indicates that people with PDA require a personalised approach to meet their needs

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