What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is one type of Autism Spectrum Condition. People on the autism spectrum have difficulties with social interaction, social communication and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour or interests. 
venn diagram of ASD and PDA
People with the PDA profile share one main characteristic; 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: 
  • resisting and avoiding ordinary, everyday demands
  • appearing sociable on the surface but lacking depth in their understanding (often recognised by parents early on)
  • using social strategies (such as distraction) to avoid demands
  • excessive mood swings, often switching suddenly
  • comfortable (sometimes to an extreme extent) in role play and pretending
  • obsessive behaviour, often focused on people rather than objects.
Children may sometimes be described as having 'challenging' or 'oppositional' behaviour. PDA is not the same as ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder); PDA is a spectrum condition but ODD is not. More detail is given my post The Difference Between PDA and ODD. Very different strategies are needed to support either diagnosis; please read about ways to help in my post Strategies for PDA.

On this blog, the series called 'Our PDA Story' has been running for many weeks. It shines a light on the experiences of many families living with PDA and is a good starting point to understanding some of the challenges faced. Our own story can be found at Week 35

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'. 

The PDA Society is a charity which provides lots of helpful information and resources about PDA. The volunteers involved with the charity are all parents of children with PDA. Their website is www.pdasociety.org.uk
I 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. Dr.Greene also has an amazing website at www.livesinthebalance.org with lots of free resources - it's not PDA specific, but it's a breath of fresh air to realise that you can change how you thought parenting should be.

Other helpful books are reviewed in my post here; Books about the Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) profile of autism.

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 Examples of good educational practice for PDA pupils or the general resources for good practice & insight