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What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?


Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is one of several Autistic Spectrum Conditions (also known as ASD, Autistic Spectrum Disorder).

The central difficulty for people with PDA is their avoidance of the everyday demands made by other people, due to their high anxiety levels when they feel that they are not in control. Hence the name of the syndrome: Pathological Demand Avoidance.

The main features of PDA are:


  • obsessively resisting ordinary demands 
  • appearing sociable on the surface but lacking depth in their understanding (often recognised by parents early on) 
  • excessive mood swings, often switching suddenly
  • comfortable (sometimes to an extreme extent) in role play and pretending 
  • language delay, seemingly as a result of passivity, but often with a good degree of 'catch-up'
  • obsessive behaviour, often focused on people rather than things. 


Children may sometimes be described as having 'challenging' or 'oppositional' behaviour. Parents describe life as 'walking on eggshells' and their child as 'Jekyll and Hyde'. Many parents have still not heard of PDA despite the condition first being recognised by Elizabeth Newson over 30 years ago now. 'A lightbulb moment' is the phrase often used to describe how parents feel when they realise their child's behaviour is not down to 'bad parenting'.


I'd thoroughly recommend that any parent having difficulty reads the books 'Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance' by Phil Christie et al and 'The Explosive Child' by Ross W. Greene.


If you happen to work with children like this, please note there are plenty of resources on the PDA Society website which will help you - try Education and Handling Guidelines.


For more detailed information, please do head over to the PDA Society website at www.pdasociety.org.uk.

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