PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is a type of behaviour exhibited by some people on the autistic spectrum. It was first identified by psychologist Elizabeth Newson (1929 to 2014) in the 1980s.
The main difficulty for people with PDA is an intense anxiety that is driven by their need to be in control and an intolerance of uncertainty. They will avoid perceived demands and expectations from other people in an extreme way. This can involve even simple day to day requests from other people.
PDA over the years has been accepted as a distinct type of autism, though not all local authorities in the United Kingdom will accept a formal diagnosis of PDA. PDA is not currently recognised as a distinct diagnosis within national and international diagnostic standards.
Common traits of people with PDA include:
- Problems with communicating in social situations
- General difficulties when interacting socially
- Repetitive patterns of behaviour
In children specifically, PDA can be recognised by a consistent and very negative response to the requests of others.
It should be noted that people with a PDA profile their demand avoidance will be extreme to the point of obsessive. This is different to the experience of others on the autistic spectrum.
PDA may also be referred to as “Autism Spectrum Disorder characterised by extreme demand avoidance” and “ASD with a PDA profile”. However, it is important that any child with PDA has a detailed profile of behaviours to underpin any general description that helps form management strategies.
Key Features of PDA
Resists and avoids ordinary demands of life
Using distraction to avoid a demand
Acknowledging a demand but excusing from the demand for example “I have to do this first” or “You do it and I will do it soon”
Physically avoiding – “My eyes hurt I cant do that or see” Hides under a table. “I am too tired”
Withdrawing into fantasy – “My teddy does not like that game we cant play like that”
Prefers adults but does not recognise there status or pecking order,
Switching of moods may be response to perceived pressure, goes over the top. Emotions may seem not real as if they are acting.
Low level of achievement in school due to avoiding demands.
Rewards and consequences can be a huge trigger with someone with PDA they may refer this to the feeling of being black mailed by the person who set them.