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"I SAID NO!" The Exhausting Reality of Living With PDA

“Don’t tell me what to do!” "You're not my boss!" "I don't want to!"

If things like this are frequently heard in your home, it may not be just because your child is "defiant" or "disrespectful." We often label children's behavior based on our standards and expectations, which they may not be able to meet.

If your child consistently (and persistently!) struggles with the ability to complete necessary daily tasks or engage in activities with family and friends, you might want to learn more about PDA! And please remember ... it's not just exhausting for you, it's also exhausting for your child.

What exactly is PDA?

Avoiding demands is a natural human behavior that we all engage in from time to time. Pathological Demand Avoidance, or PDA, falls under the umbrella of autism, though not every autistic individual will have PDA. Like many other neurodivergent traits and conditions, PDA can be misunderstood and stigmatized. Many children who are labeled as a “problem child” may actually be in distress from PDA symptoms. 

Persistent Desire for Autonomy and other neuro-affirming language

At Flourish, we prefer to use language that is empathetic and destigmatizing to conceptualize PDA, such as referring to PDA as a “Persistent Desire for Autonomy." We also try not to use words like tantrum, defiance, disrespect, hard-headed, bossy, etc to describe Autists and PDA-ers as these are inherent negative / judgmental terms that people use to describe children who do not meet our very strict social norms.

What are the symptoms of PDA?

  • Intense anxiety when faced with demands or expectations

  • Extreme avoidance of everyday demands and requests

  • A need for autonomy and control over their surroundings

  • Social communication difficulties

  • Difficulty with transitions and changes

Because of these symptoms, numerous everyday expectations may be avoided simply because they are “demands”. Some individuals describe it as a sense of pressure leading to a feeling of loss of control, subsequently escalating anxiety and potentially triggering panic. In fact, meltdowns in PDA are best understood as being like panic attacks. This panic can happen over almost anything ... for example, when it's time to do something "simple" like put on your shoes to leave for school, or even when it's something fun, like being invited to a birthday party.

Many people can misjudge the avoidance as 'irrational’—such as an apparently exaggerated reaction to a minor request, or the sensation of hunger inexplicably hindering someone from eating. However, the pressure and panic of a demand is very real to a child (or adult!) with PDA. 

Therapy for PDA in Asheville, NC

PDA meltdowns can cause significant distress and conflict in close relationships. If you’re a parent of a child with PDA, you may feel exhausted from constant battles over expectations.

If you’re a neurodivergent adult with PDA, you may find yourself in frequent conflict with partners, friends, or co-workers. No matter how PDA affects your life, we’re here to help. At Flourish we offer therapy services for children, families, and adults who want to embrace their desire for autonomy while building peaceful relationships. 

If you’re interested in learning more or scheduling an appointment, please email or give us a call at 828-532-6717.


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