Pathological demand avoidance (P.D.A.) is a term used to describe a profile of autism characterized by an extreme avoidance of everyday demands and expectations. People with P.D.A. have difficulties with social communication and interaction and can struggle with sensory processing, but what sets them apart is their extreme resistance to demands.
P.D.A. was first described in the 1980s by Elizabeth Newson, who noticed a group of children who had features of autism but were different in their extreme avoidance of demands. Since then, research has shown that P.D.A. is a distinct profile of autism, and many autism organizations and researchers now recognize it.
P.D.A. can be challenging to understand because the behaviors that people with P.D.A. exhibit are often unexpected and difficult to predict. People with P.D.A. may appear manipulative or controlling, as they often use avoidance to cope with situations that they find overwhelming or complicated. They may also struggle with emotional regulation, making controlling their reactions to demands hard.
One of the critical features of P.D.A. is the extreme anxiety and distress that people with this condition experience when faced with demands. This anxiety can be so intense that it can lead to significant impairments in daily life, including difficulties with relationships, education, and employment.
P.D.A. is an example of neurodiversity, which refers to the idea that neurological differences, including those associated with autism, should be recognized and respected as a natural part of human diversity. This means that people with P.D.A. should not be pathologized or stigmatized for their differences but celebrated and supported in their unique strengths and challenges.
Neurodiversity recognizes that every individual has a unique way of thinking, learning, and experiencing the world and that these differences should be celebrated rather than stigmatized. It is important to remember that autism is not a disease or a disorder but a natural variation in human cognition and behavior.
The concept of neurodiversity has led to a growing movement of acceptance and advocacy for people with autism, including those with P.D.A. This movement emphasizes the importance of inclusion, acceptance, and understanding and encourages society to create environments that are accessible and supportive for all individuals, regardless of their neurological differences.
While it is important to celebrate and support the unique strengths and challenges of people with P.D.A., it is also crucial to acknowledge the frustration and difficulties that parents and caregivers may experience when supporting someone with this condition. The extreme avoidance of demands that characterizes P.D.A. can be frustrating and exhausting to deal with and may make it challenging to provide the support and guidance that people with P.D.A. need to thrive.
Parents of children with P.D.A. often describe feeling helpless and frustrated, as traditional discipline and behavior management approaches may not work with their child. Instead, parents may need to develop creative strategies to help their child manage anxiety and cope with everyday demands, which can be time-consuming and emotionally exhausting.
One resource that may be helpful for parents of children with P.D.A. is the P.A.N.D.A. approach. P.A.N.D.A. stands for “Pathological Demand Avoidance: Nonviolent Resistance and Attunement.” This approach was developed by Phil Christie, Ruth Fidler, and Margaret Duncan and is based on nonviolent resistance and attunement principles.
The P.A.N.D.A. approach recognizes that traditional approaches to behavior management may not work with children with P.D.A. Instead, it focuses on building a positive relationship between the child and their caregiver. This relationship is built on the principles of nonviolent resistance, which means that the caregiver resists the child’s extreme avoidance of demands in a non-threatening and non-punitive way.
Using the P.A.N.D.A. approach, caregivers can build a positive relationship with their child based on trust, understanding, and empathy. This can help reduce anxiety and distress, and make it easier for the child to cope with everyday demands and expectations. PDA infographic by Kimgalloslp
In conclusion, while it is essential to celebrate and support the unique strengths and challenges of people with P.D.A., it is also necessary to acknowledge the frustration and difficulties that parents and caregivers may experience when helping someone with this condition. The P.A.N.D.A. approach is one resource that may be helpful for parents of children with P.D.A., as it emphasizes the principles of nonviolent resistance and attunement to build a positive relationship between the child and their caregiver. In addition, by using this approach, caregivers can support their child in coping with the anxiety and distress that can come with extreme avoidance of demands.