Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

If you are new to learning about autism and neurodivergence you will soon realise there are a lot of acronyms used.  An acronym is an abbreviation created by the letters of each word in the phrase.  You might use things like IRL, AFK or BTW, which are quicker ways of  typing the words. It’s the same when we talk about autism and related topics like RSD, SPD, ADHD and SM. Another  you will perhaps hear used quite a lot is PDA, which is the shortened way of saying Pathological Demand Avoidance.

What is PDA?

The PDA Society explains that “The PDA profile describes one way in which autism can present”. Here is a link to the PDA Society’s quick introduction video: WHAT IS PDA?

What is a demand?

Demands are tasks we feel like we HAVE to do or instructions we HAVE to follow. Following rules, sticking to a timetable, answering someone’s question, getting dressed, eating and drinking… the list goes on! Often these are things we are told or reminded to do by others, but we also each create our own personal demands and expect certain standards from ourselves.

How do demands feel to a PDAer?

Everyone can get a bit irritated by HAVING to follow instructions or do things in a certain way from time to time – especially if it’s something you don’t agree with or can’t understand the point of. We all avoid demands at times.

For a PDAer, the feeling of having to follow a demand is so much stronger, which then triggers an anxiety response. And when you are anxious about doing something, it is so much harder to do. This even applies to things you might really want to do, and things you enjoy. The ‘panic monkey’ in your brain thinks a demand is a threat so starts working overtime and takes over your control, coming up with allsorts of tactics to help you avoid what you need or want to do.

PDA is not new

PDA is still being researched by academics, so you might come across some professionals (doctors, teachers, therapists) who don’t really understand what PDA is. If you are someone who is PDA, this can be incredibly frustrating! This does not mean that PDA is new though. Think about the planet Jupiter: It was first observed by Galileo Galilei in 1609, but this doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before then. We never stop discovering and learning more about the universe, and that is the same for people and learning about the complexities of human brains. However, now that you and autistic people of your generation are becoming more knowledgeable about PDA, as well as the ongoing research happening, the awareness, acceptance and understanding is only going to continue to grow and spread wider in society.

What can help?

There are ways that people who care for us can reduce pressure and make tasks feel less demanding, but the more a PDAer understands themselves, the more they might be able to create their own strategies to make life feel easier and more manageable. When you understand why you behave or respond in a certain way, it is usually easier to be kinder and more accepting of yourself. 

The PDA Society have a website full of information and ideas for anyone wanting to learn more about PDA: professionals, family members or PDAers themselves. .There’s videos, podcasts and written explanations of people’s experiences. The link below will take you straight to the part of their website aimed at teens, and from there you can explore as much or as little as you like.


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