Pathalogical Demand Avoidance

Last modified: February 28, 2019
Estimated reading time: 1 min

What is PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)?

PDA is one type of Autism Spectrum Condition.  People on the spectrum have difficulties with social interaction, social communication and restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour or interest.

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.
Main Features:

  • 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 in Steph’s Two Girls post The Difference Between PDA and ODD.
Very different strategies are needed to support either diagnosis; please read about ways to help in Stephs Two Girls post Strategies for PDA.
On her blog, the series called ‘Our PDA Story‘ 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.
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’.

Further Information

Thanks to Steph Curtis of Stephs Two Girls for sharing this piece with us.  For more information on PDA written by a parent with lived experience, we highly recommend Stephs blog.


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