Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) series.
PDA is a part of the autistic spectrum that is currently not recognised as a stand-alone diagnosis in the county of Worcestershire where I live, there seems to have recently been some diagnoses given of ‘Autism with a demand avoidant profile.’ It wasn’t until I came across information on PDA from the PDA Society via my networking with other SEND bloggers that I found out about PDA and realised that we’ve been living with it every day with our eldest daughter.
As time as gone on and I’m researched more regarding PDA, I have come to realise that I too have certain traits, although as an adult they are not as recognisable as my daughter’s traits, as over time I’ve learnt how to cope and train myself to deal with everyday demands, even though I had no idea that these feelings, in fact, had a name. One of the main traits I recognised in myself was the strange feeling I get if someone tells me to do something, especially if it comes across in quite an aggressive manner or someone tells me I’ve done something wrong and I wasn’t sure of the right way to do something. I get this awkward ache feeling at the pit of my stomach, I will hold it in as I want to appear ‘normal,’ on the surface but inside I’m screaming, I’d very much like to exit the situation and run away, but I can’t. I often hold these frustrations in until I get home, usually by holding in tears and letting it out, or in fact feelings of anger. On the other hand, if there’s something that I really want to do, such as make a hot drink for my partner and I haven’t been asked, or told to so, I get a better feeling of ‘I like doing this.’ My eldest daughter, Lou, is exactly the same as this, we have to carefully word questions and instructions in insure it isn’t perceived as a ‘demand,’ such as using a statement like “arms in your coat,” in a positive tone of voice, rather than “put your coat on.” As she will usually respond to this demand by throwing the coat on the floor and a refusal to put it on.
For this first post in the PDA series I am looking at explaining why people on the autistic spectrum may say things we don’t mean to someone who has opposing views, or someone that has just ‘told us off,’ or given us a ‘direct demand.’ It is important to remember that individuals with PDA are highly anxious and the anxiety they are feeling may come out as anger, frustration or even aggression, due to the feeling of being out of control of a certain situation. For myself, I really don’t like confrontations, I don’t like raised voices and I will do all I can to avoid confrontational situations, even to the degree where I’ve agreed with things I don’t really agree with to avoid a varying and opposing point of view.
People with PDA “don’t see anything as being their responsibility. They aren’t very good at keeping secrets and they say things that are unkind without understanding the upset these words cause.” Source: http://aspergersasdconnect.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/pathological-demand-avoidance.html
Only this week I also read the following article by ‘The Mighty’ https://themighty.com/2016/07/what-autism-meltdowns-feel-like-for-autistic-people/
Where individuals on the autistic spectrum themselves described what a ‘meltdown’ actually feels like. When I read the following statement, I could 100% relate:
“I feel all sorts of emotions all at once and I want to run away from them all. I lose sight of what is socially appropriate and start to say things I either don’t mean or something I’ve wanted to say deep down. Whenever that happens I end up hurting someone or confusing everyone.”
This keeps happening to me now, even as an adult and it is the main cause of my anxieties, particularly social anxiety, as I simply cannot remember what I’ve said to people in meltdown mode, as I haven’t even been aware until after the meltdown that it was in fact a meltdown that I’ve been experiencing! This is such a complex thing for me to understand about myself and therefore to try and get others around me to understand is one of my biggest challenges to date. The self-awareness that I now have with this has taught me to make people aware that it is best to actually ignore me if I’m starting to say horrible things, if I’m in a stressful situation or if being challenged about something, such as what I may have written on social media. Unfortunately, some people have pressed me for answers or ‘had a go’ at me after something I said when I was mid-meltdown and there is no going back, I will say stuff that may have been floating around in my head or thoughts that I have deep down but ordinarily wouldn’t say in public, but lose all sense of filter during a meltdown and it all just comes flowing out and I simply can’t stop it.
The guilt that comes after these occurrences is intense, this time last year, after occurrences where I’d said something I really didn’t mean to I would hide myself away and be too afraid to go out where I may see the people who I have ‘upset.’ The best way forward after an occurrence like this is to just forget it and carry on and not become absorbed in analysing what shouldn’t have been said as it will just take over and it becomes very difficult to get on with everyday tasks. These occurrences are just like when Lou, will come out with some hurtful words during a meltdown and as a parent, I have to just let it all go over the top of my head. I often get responses such as “you’re a really bad mummy,” “You are so stupid,” and “I think you’re a terrible mother,” which for a child of not quite 6, is quite complex. At first these sorts of statements hurt me emotionally but after researching, I now let it go over the top of my head and don’t respond as I know it will cause even more upset and cause an arguments, which is what I desperately tell other people to do even though I’m an adult, when I say things like: “please don’t keep pressuring me as I don’t want to talk about this right now,” and “Please stop as I don’t want to say anything hurtful.”
I do hope that this gives a bit of insight into the reasons behind this trait that can be seen by individuals with PDA, or indeed any person on the autistic spectrum experiencing a meltdown.
For more information on PDA please visit:
I also watched an amazing webinar by Operation Diversity where Dr Jody Eaton (Clinical Psychologist) explains about PDA in children. She mentioned that often children cannot remember what they have said or done during a meltdown. This webinar can be found here:
Thanks for reading 😊