What is PDA?

PDA – Pathological Demand Avoidance is a condition which is part of the autism spectrum. PDA profile is given to individuals who display the main characteristics which are to avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent.

“Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a developmental disorder which is distinct from autism but falls under the spectrum. It is a pervasive developmental disorder (meaning it affects all areas of development) and was first identified by Elizabeth Newson in 2003, although it is still not currently recognised in many tools used for diagnosing autism. It is a complex, challenging and misunderstood condition that is often ignored or not even recognised by many professionals. It is worth noting that strategies which are helpful for learners with autistic spectrum disorder may not be useful in cases of PDA”


What does PDA appear like in adults?

The main traits of PDA are to obsessively resist ordinary everyday demands in life, of which can be self imposed – meaning a demand that a person places upon themselves. Someone with PDA can appear sociable on the surface, as indeed I have over the years, but this sociable appearance will mask the lack of understanding, difficulties and differences they have from others. People with PDA will not see the difference between themselves and people of authority, as a child I would not see this difference and would assume I could do anything I wanted to. Even as an adult there have been so many times when I have just done what I needed to for example walk straight into places without stopping when supposed to not noticing the social cues, and sadly when I was arrested for one of my major melt downs I really struggled to be taken In a police car, and even tried to open the door myself when we arrived at the station.

A person with PDA can be impulsive and often have excessive mood swings which can switch suddenly – making behaviour appear unpredictable. PDA individuals will experience high levels of anxiety. There is a need for control which is driven by anxiety or the automatic thereat response – the fight or flight when faced with demands.

They will focus intently, most often on other people which could be connected to a real person or a fictional character.

What are the signs of PDA in a child?

The same as an adult, children will resist every day demands to an extreme extent. They will be socially manipulative , they say by the age of 5, learning ways to avoid demands as I did very well. I knew exactly how to behave or what to do so that I could avoid doing whatever it was that I could not cope with, even something as simple as being asked to carry something for a parent. Both children and adults will show normal eye contact- however this is the not a great example for either PDA or autism without PDA as many autistic’s without the profile can show eye contact, it is just a bit too intense to do so. It is often what is noted in early years development as a possible sign of autism. Just as adults, children will be very impulsive and have extreme mood swings such as melt downs or tantrums as more commonly described.

Children will show social mimicry, which is something I had become brilliant at even to the extend that I could actually copy someone’s voice tone, gestures and mannerisms. As a child my parents thought this was just a talent and would get me to perform shows to other relatives. The only way I managed to do that was because it was not me doing the show but the person I had become. Mimicry is known to be a way that people in general behave unconsciously when we wish to form relationships with others and make them like you, as people relate more to someone on the same level, and for a person with PDA if someone likes you they are less likely to be a threat or expect something too much from you, you are able then to get them on your side and hope they will not demand from you. Children will also indulge themselves in role play. I did as a child and as mentioned before I would daily look at myself in the mirror and act out being someone else. I loved the He-man character and wanted to be big and strong like him, where no-one could harm me. I also loved to play with my role play toys, playing was so important to me more then anything else.

“Thor Lego Super Heroes Minifigure” by brickdisplaycase.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

PDA is still a very unknown as a condition. Although it is widely understood to be a profile on the autism spectrum it can be very difficult to identify and so often goes unnoticed, misunderstood or even misdiagnosed.

If a person is diagnosed with a PDA profile of autism they will share all the autistic characteristics such as :

The persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction, have restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviour, activities or interests, also have all the sensory issues that effect all the senses.

In addition to these a autistic person will also have the following which then makes up the part of a PDA profile:

A strong need to be in control that is driven by anxiety, they will be driven to avoid everyday demands even if they are self imposed or something they want to do this will be avoided to an extreme extent, they will use social ways to avoid things such as manipulative behaviour, and will not respond to conventional ways of being taught, parented or supported, making the condition so difficult for others to manage.

I hope this article has been interesting to read, and given more of an insight into PDA. Again, there is so much more to cover in future posts.

Thank you for reading if you have and I will be blogging again soon.

One response to “What is PDA?”

  1. Wow, an amazing read and thank you for sharing. What you have written would be similar to how I would describe my daughter, now 25 and who has has had several diagnosis since 14 and to a lesser degree ​my grandchildren Can I ask who it was that diagnosed you. Thank you Karen


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