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  • The Neurodivergent Therapy Space

Pathological Demand Avoidance

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a term used in the field of developmental psychology and autism. It describes a specific profile of behaviour and characteristics observed in some autistic/adhd people. PDA is currently not recognized as a separate diagnosis in most diagnostic manuals, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Instead, it is considered a subtype or a specific presentation of autism. I personally prefer the name 'strong need for autonomy'.

PDA can be incredibly debilitating but it can also be incredibly liberating. For example, it can be a pain in the arse if I were just about to go and complete a task I really wanted to do and then someone suddenly told me to do it, now no matter how much I wanted to do that task, I cannot complete it because someone has just told me to do it. On the other side, I am an incredibly strong-willed person and hold no guilt for not complying with social rules and other people's expectations of me.

It is important to note each person experiences PDA differently. Individuals with PDA may experience some or all of the following:

  1. Extreme Avoidance of Demands: Individuals with PDA exhibit an intense need to avoid or resist everyday demands, requests, and expectations from others. These demands can be both explicit (e.g., instructions) and implicit (e.g., social expectations).

  2. Social and Communication Difficulties: Like other neurotypes, those with PDA may have social and communication difficulties. However, they may also be quite skilled at superficially engaging with others and may use social strategies to deflect demands - masking.

  3. Unpredictable Behavior: Behaviors can be unpredictable and may vary depending on the context. What a person with PDA is willing or unwilling to do can change from one moment to the next.

  4. Masking: Some individuals with PDA are skilled at "masking" or camouflaging their difficulties in certain social situations, making it challenging to identify their unique needs.

Some people believe PDAers are just being difficult and they have a choice over whether they want to comply or not. From my own lived experience I know this is not the case.

PDA can be incredibly debilitating and can be activated not just by other peoples demands and expectations but even our own demands can trigger PDA to kick in.

Parents, caregivers, and educators of individuals with PDA often use strategies that focus on reducing anxiety, providing flexibility in demands, and building rapport to help manage and support people who experience PDA effectively.

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