What is PDA?
Pathological Demand Avoidance is a term that was first used in the 1980s by Professor Elizabeth Newson, however it didn’t appear in a journal article until 2003.
The very existence of PDA is a widely debated topic, including how and where it sits within the autism spectrum. Evidenced-based research is limited, and there is currently no agreed upon definition of PDA. However, the profile is typically used to describe those who avoid everyday demands and expectations to an extreme extent. Pathological demand avoidance is often (but not always) accompanied by high levels of anxiety.
Typical features of a PDA profile:
- Avoiding and resisting the day to day demands of life
- Using social strategies such as distractions and making excuses
- Presenting sociable characteristics, but lacking understanding
- Often impulsive with excessive mood swings
- Often display obsessive behaviour that focuses around other people
- Often come across as excessively controlling and dominating, particularly when anxious
A PDA profile is often picked up as part of the formal autism assessment, which, despite it not being an official diagnostic term, many diagnostic teams do describe it as a profile that they recognise within the autistic spectrum.
Approaches and strategies in education
As a school we strive to ensure that each child is supported by the right educational approach. When supporting a young person with a PDA profile, it’s important to understand that they are not deliberately choosing to oppose you – they are simply having difficulty overcoming their need to be in control of the environment around them. Structure and routine is often not the best way forward, but an indirect style of negotiation will mean they feel more in control of their learning and consequently less anxious.
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