PDA is part of the Autism Spectrum and used to be known as ATypical Autism because the traits of people with PDA are different to the traits of people with typical autism.
Unfortunately it is still not currently always recognised when diagnosing autism and children are often given a diagnosis of ASD with some form of wording mentioning traits of Demand Avoidance. A lot of areas in the UK won’t diagnose PDA which leaves parents travelling to other areas or even paying privately for a diagnosis to help their child.
Children with PDA resist demands due to anxiety. This can be everyday or unusual demands, good or bad, placed on them by others or even themselves. They will resist demands in many ways including using learnt social skills.
So what are the traits of a child with PDA?
Children with PDA often have a history of being passive in the first year of their lives although some may resist demands from the word go.
The most noticeable trait of a child with PDA is their reaction to normal requests, often reacting extremely or going out of their way to avoid doing what is requested. This can be through shouting and screaming, procrastinating, socially manipulating, excuses or any other means. This extends to all demands, even positive demands and requests.
In social situations you will often find a child with PDA sat watching or joining in on a surface level. Friendships tend to have no depth to them but can appear to be there.
Children with PDA like to feel in control and control situations and can switch between moods. They are often likened to Jekyll and Hyde, switching from aggressive to passive and the other way round very quickly. They might say sorry for doing something and then do it again straight afterwards. They are impulsive.
Unlike a lot of children with ASD, children with PDA enjoy pretend play and role play. This can even be extending to “acting” in everyday situations and they are able to “act” like other children at school in order to cope for instance, often “masking” their PDA whilst there.
How can we help to ease anxiety for a child with PDA?
PDA is a very complex condition and strategies which are helpful for children with autism spectrum disorders may not work with children with PDA. Sometimes children with PDA need to be treated in quite the opposite way.
Because children with PDA are different to other children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, it is good to know their traits so that we can implement strategies which will help them.
The approach will vary from child to child with the main aim of reducing anxiety surrounding demands and making them feel less demanding for the child.
Language used to talk to them needs to be less direct for instance saying “you need to turn your laptop off now” will have a far more extreme reaction than “would you like me to pass you your laptop bag to put it in?” and “we need to go out today” would be better phrased as “I’m going out today, I would really like it if you decided to come”. If you can phrase demands in such a way that the child with PDA feels that they are making a decision for themselves you may just win that situation.
Novelty and variety can work well and Drama or role play can be used to ease demands. Giving choices can also help. Praise, reward and punishment are likely not going to work well with a child with PDA.
Some parents of children with PDA explain it that you have to often go against everything you know about parenting in order to succeed.
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