Editor’s update from Terra Vance and Richard Woods on The Aspergian’s position on PDA:
There is debate about the existence of pathological demand avoidance (PDA) and whether or not it is an autistic profile. We’ve promised to update the community as we continue to look into the issue from all sides.
The Aspergian’s members are divided, but our soft position is that for very logical reasons, most autistic people have a degree demand avoidance that relates to anxiety about social differences, sensory processing, executive functioning issues, burnout, and social overwhelm, or from frequent co-occurring conditions like general anxiety, depression, and trauma spectrum disorders.
We believe that PDA exists as a neurodivergent phenomenon, but not that it is exclusive to autistic people. We feel more research is needed to determine if PDA is a distinct condition or an interaction of co-occurring conditions.
However, we respect that many people identify with this profile and have formed a rich community and body of resources to help others overcome demand avoidance. We will continue to update the community and our readers on our position and as new research and insights become available.
15 Life Hacks for PDA
When thinking about life hacks for us PDAers, the most obvious strategy is, ‘Do what we want, when we want, with no demands put upon us.’ The path of least resistance and all. Easy, right? Wrong.
Around every corner is a demand waiting to thrust itself upon us. So how do we cope with all of these demands that can’t help themselves hammering down on us like we’re a nail that just won’t lay flat?
I have sat down to write this article over a dozen times, have had the words clearly in my head; but when I have found a quiet moment with my laptop, a wall drops down between what I want to do and actually being able to do it. I am an autistic with a PDA profile and sometimes the demand of doing even something that I really want to do is impossible.
So what, then? What would make our lives easier so that we don’t hit a brick wall every time we want to do something?
- The main strategy, in my opinion, is to reduce as much anxiety as you can. Again, I know how easy that sounds and how difficult it is in practice, but read on.
Having PDA doesn’t mean that you avoid every single demand/potential demand that you come across. It’s fluid. When you are less anxious and are in control, the need to resist the demand – to gain control – is far less than the times when you feel out of your comfort zone and your need for control is sky high. With this comes a much better chance to be able to do the things you want to do.
- Find your tribe. If being autistic makes you feel like an alien on this planet then being PDA can sometimes make you feel like a space monster.
By finding your tribe, you’ll find that you’re not alone and that these people think and react in the same way that you do, plus these are people who you don’t have to mask in front of. Having the freedom to be yourself is like having the best stretch in the comfiest bed.
The sense of belonging is one that every human in this scary world yearns for so find those that you belong with. They’re out there, I guarantee it.
- It’s ok not to be able to do things when you want to, sometimes.
Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to go see that film you were planning on watching or another activity that you can’t get past the wall to do. Personally, I find it increasingly frustrating when I want to do something (like sitting and writing this article) but just CAN’T.
I feel it’s almost a vicious circle; we want to do an activity, can’t, get frustrated, which causes anxiety, then that leads to a spike in needing control and inability to do activities.
Give yourself a break. That’s not a demand!
- Let friends know that you may or may not join them on an activity.
Reduce the pressure and, therefore, the demand to attend. If your friends know you and accept you for who you are, they will be fine with this.
- When you are feeling very anxious or overwhelmed, remove all demands, or at least reduce them as much as you can.
The more demands are perceived or placed on you, the more you will be pushed towards meltdown – and no one wants that. Pushing yourself to meet demands in high stress times can cause burnout, and then you’ll get nothing done.
- One way to reduce the stress and anxiety of responding to a demand is to respond by text or email.
It gives you time to think of a way to reject the demand in a less abrupt manner, and it will remove the pressure of having to do it in person.
- Find little things that you can control around the house. This is a good hack if you have a PDA child or teenager.
If they like being in the garden; cordon off a section of the garden that they can do what they like with (as long as it’s not very dangerous to themselves or others). DO NOT interfere with their section unless they have specifically asked you for help. Let them be in charge of what film is watched on movie night or what takeaway you are going to have for dinner.
Having a range of things that you can be in control of will help to keep your anxiety down, and you can go to these things and tinker when you feel a little anxious.
- Regarding PDA children and teenagers: I know the bedtime battles that you have with them as they see an enforced bedtime as a HUGE demand.
The kindest and best thing for both them and you is to let them stay up until they are ready to go to bed. Let them play in their bedrooms or watch TV. Believe me, I know the pressure of trying to raise your child how you are told you are supposed to do it– with strict bath and bedtime routines, etc. People will accuse you of being too lenient and spoiling your child.
But these things are awful for PDAers. By trying to enforce these things, all it does is cause them a great deal of anxiety, often leading to them lashing out or being in a great deal of distress. It also leads to a great deal of stress for you and the potential of being hurt when they do lash out.
- Have an impulse buddy!
I don’t know about you, but I have very poor impulse control which has led to me painfully regretting some of my impulsive decisions. If you have someone you trust who is sensible and has your best interests at heart, just run your more extreme impulses by them before jumping in head first.
I have a very dear friend who has ‘Jo cards’ that she uses when I am either going too far or if one of my impulsive ideas is totally nuts and something that I will later regret. Yes, these cards can be seen as a demand, but I have total control over whether I listen to her or not.
Having a card shown to me is often like splashing water on my face. It alerts me to look at what I’m doing and assess it with clarity rather than slapdash over excitement.
- Have all your bills on Direct Debit payment to avoid the demands of having to pay bills when they arrive.
Try and schedule them to come out around the times when you have the most money in your account, such as right after paydays or benefits deposit.
- Do chores and routine work in small steps.
If you have jobs/chores that need to be done, they can very quickly become hulking great demands that you just can’t make yourself do. Try to limit how many jobs a day you do; for example, do one job in the morning and one in the afternoon with lots of demand-free, relaxing time in between.
- Demand-free breaks!
Sometimes it feels like everywhere we look, there is demand bearing down on us that sends our anxiety through the roof. Find ways to step away from it all, every day or as often as you need, where you can just ‘be’.
Just stopping everything and going with the flow of what your brain decides it wants to do can be powerful to reduce anxiety. It puts you right in the driving seat, which gives us PDAers all that lovely control that we thrive on.
- Learn how to meditate.
It is something that you can do for two minutes or two hours. But it is a great way to calm the mind and to reduce your anxiety. There are lots of free apps that have guided meditations on them with lots of personalities and styles to choose from to fit your style of unwinding and focusing.
- Find what works for you.
I don’t know about you but, from a young age, the overwhelming and ever present demand of conforming and following precise life points has been the most intense and inescapable demands of my life.
Go to school. Get a job. Get married. Buy a house. Have children. Have the same cookie-cutter life as all the Smiths and the Joneses. I tried, HARD, to fit into these moulds but always ended up sabotaging them or only being able to do them for a short time before the need to do something else took over.
I have moved 27 times in my life. I think this is largely due to not wanting to be stuck in one place for too long. Settling down and being forced to stay still while my brain is screaming to run and be free was never going to work until I found a way to work with— and not against— PDA.
This is something that I wish someone had said to me all those years ago:
YOU DO NOT NEED TO CONFORM.
You can be anyone, do anything, go anywhere – as long as you stick within the confines of the law, go for it. Yes, having money is incredibly useful, and, therefore, you have to work in order to get money; but do something that you love.
Do something that feels right to you. Find your niche. You don’t have to live up to this expectation that is put on us to be like everyone else and to do things just to tick them off the ‘things I must achieve in life’ list.
- Read books and articles by other PDAers.
It is a liberating experience reading someone else’s words and finding them to resonate in your bones like they could be talking specifically about you.
In particular, Harry Thompson’s PDA Paradox is a fantastically wonderful book. I engorged on it and read it in two sittings and feel all the better for reading it. I highly recommend it.