I am demand avoidant: An adult experience of PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance).
Updated: Feb 25
I am demand avoidant. PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance). A particular behavioural profile of autism. It means that my brain will desperately work in cohesion with my body to create strategies, diversions, reasons, excuses, allowances and accommodations to prevent me from engaging in anything that my brain receives as a demand. Inconvenient eh? For much of my life, yes. I couldn’t do as I was told. I was, at times, explosive at home, behind closed doors. At times, explosive at school. Turned over a desk, swore at a teacher, wagged and then left at 15. In environments where I couldn’t say No or where my PDA could not be expressed in it’s fullness, I would avoid attending. School, peoples’ homes, work, sport. It meant as a student, if I wasn’t completely interested in or completely believe in what I was studying, I wouldn’t engage. It meant at uni if the theory was incongruent with my experience, I’d avoid it like the plague. I am autodidactic. I learn as I need to, in whatever way suits me. Not because of ego, but because of safety. I asked a lot of questions. I didn’t see my elders as wiser, requiring or being deserving of my respect simply due to age. I questioned and challenged authority. In the same way that the autistic brain is on higher alert for threat, my PDA autistic brain is the same but also different. It not only lives in a constant state of perceived threat attached to my sensory integration and association, familiarity and a strong need for predictability, It perceives everyday requests, feedback, advice, suggestions, recommendations and help.. As demands. My brain perceives these as threats. As people, places and things potentially controlling me. Not always. I have worked very hard at this. I have to take a moment and really process many conversations, situations and events to ascertain that I am not in danger or under threat or being controlled. And the anxiety is not the same as the anxiety attached to my garden variety autism (not that this is an actual thing, but you get what I mean). PDA anxiety is different. It presents as an extreme need for control but it’s hidden well in my adulthood. It means I might change the subject, not read messages when someone constantly messages me, I might experience inner turmoil more often due to my brain fearing being controlled. It means I won’t put myself in situations where others tell me what to do. It means I will intentionally avoid listening to, or hearing people who have exercised control over me before. Where I feel shut down or unable to speak up honestly, my behaviour will change. I will cancel, I might even present as rude. I’ve been called brutal. Brutally honest. I can be brutal. My demand avoidance related anxiety appears as confidence. It is disguised as strong boundaries; really strong boundaries. It says No and will not move from No. And, it demands to be heard. My brain has required practise to fine tune how to protect me and sadly, through conditioning, it has not been responsive in the instances where it should, in order to protect me from harm; from being controlled. But it has learnt. The hard way. Punishing, or giving constructed consequences to a person with a PDA or demand avoidant profile is not only redundant, It feeds the demand avoidance. I will become non responsive. Shut down. No more talking. No more engaging; we are done. If I get even a whiff of dishonesty, Betrayal, nastiness, I’m out. People who operate from their heartspace, only. Natural consequences help me. They hurt, they are hard to learn from, But I learn. And my trust in those closest to me is not broken when my environment provides natural consequences. There are many benefits of PDA. Acting, singing, musical giftedness, a passion for performance and role playing. Although these are often techniques used for avoidance in childhood, They become gifts in adulthood. Building my own business. Having integrity that is unshakeable. Those boundaries. Knowing between right and wrong, yet being able to spend time in the grey because it’s where I fit. Only having people in my life who support me, who are trustworthy, who are safe. Not speaking for organisations who exploit, cheat, overlook or dismiss neurodivergent voices. Not being afraid to speak up. Having an extremely finely tuned intuition that NEVER fails me. Having a profoundly gifted bullshit radar. Understanding my children and knowing intuitively how to connect with them. I know when I’m lied to. I know what gaslighting is and when a person is attempting to engage me in the practise. I know when I’m treated well and when I’m not. I’m willing to sacrifice popularity for integrity (In fact, this is not a choice). PDA is not the same as simply being oppositional. More often than not, we can be extroverted and appear unshakeable. I’m going to begin talking more about PDA. It needs to be understood. The regular strategies for those of us on the spectrum to cope, to manage life, can often be very, very different for PDAers and how we respond. I’m seeing more and more children who have a PDA autistic expression. Their potential and their wholeness is so important to be recognised, but parents are not receiving the guidance or support necessary in understanding their little people. No child behaves in a way that has them resented, rejected, or disapproved of, intentionally. PDA anxiety has it’s own economy and exchange rate. If a PDAer does follow a direction, or accept your help Or any other form of what is received by our brain as a demand, There will be a request for input. We might ask you to help us do something you know we can do and have done, Many, many times. We may behave inappropriately. We may ask something totally irrational of you. This is because we are seeking control back. You took some of ours where we accepted your help, Followed your advice or took your suggestion, Ate the food you prepared or put our socks on so we could get out the door on time. Control is a commodity. Please understand that underneath it all As much as our behaviour, Our words, our need for control Particularly as children May have us appear as unfeeling, We feel. So very deeply. . . . Kristy Forbes inTune Pathways . . . Artist: May Xiong.