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Pathological Demand Avoidance

Updated: May 29, 2023

Pathological Demand Avoidance. Bea Inclusive TV and Podcast Episode 012

Today I will talk about Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).

In this episode of Bea Inclusive TV, you will:

1. Find out what it is PDA, and I will guide you on how to prepare yourself and where to find help if your school is looking after a child with PDA

2. Get the list of the literature on the topic and my recommendations.

3. Be able to use three simple strategies to support children with PDAs effectively.

4. Find out who will get the Lego Duplo My First Car Creations and the Lego Mug

If you are new to me – my name is Bea, and I'm advocating truly inclusive school provision. I support an eclectic and holistic approach, and as the Autism Lead Practitioner, I used many different interventions to suit my children's needs. One of the best therapies I'm passionate about is Lego® based Therapy, as I saw the effectiveness of this approach and the positive change in children's and adults' emotional and behavioural responses, language, communication and social skills.

So, I invite you to follow my journey in creating a genuinely inclusive provision that helps you support children and develop your skills. Are you ready? Let's go!

Let me start by saying that PDA is widely considered part of the autism spectrum or one of the autism spectrum conditions.

I worked in a mainstream school and had three children with PDA. Two boys and one girl. They all were similar, challenging for adults and different from one another, expressing different characteristics.

Learn with Bea Inclusive about Main features of Pathological Demand Avoidance.
Pathological Demand Avoidance Image. Main features.

So, what are the characteristic features of the PDA profile?

Well, PDA is best understood as an anxiety-driven need to be in control and avoid other people's demands and expectations, so the main feature of PDA that also gives the name to the condition is:

1. Resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life

The demands could include suggestions that it's time to finish or start the activity, to go to the assembly, time to eat, time to put the coat on, join a workout, etc. At times, any suggestion, comment or praise made by another person can be perceived as demand and cause extreme anxiety that can lead to challenging behaviour and meltdown. They can also use straightforward refusal or outbursts of explosive behaviour and aggression.

Before they explode, though, they usually use many types of social manipulation to avoid the demands.

Usually, they will:

1. Try to distract.

2. Give you the excuse for "I can't do it! I'm not here!"

3. Negotiate

4. Refuse

5. Withdraw into fantasy.

6. Walk away.

7. Physical or verbal outbursts or attacks.

8. Shouting, screaming, throwing things

The next feature of PDA is that they:

  • Appear sociable on the surface but lack depth in their understanding.

Children with PDA usually seek out interaction and seem people-orientated. They very often appear overconfident socially, which masks their difficulties with anxiety. They can be misleading and overpowering and may overreact. Children with PDA have difficulty seeing boundaries (especially between children and adults), accepting social obligations, and taking responsibility for their actions. They can become overfamiliar or bossy.

The next feature of the PDA is that children/people

  • Display excessive mood swings and impulsivity.

Children with PDA can suddenly switch from one mood to another, and the emotions shown can be theatrical and over the top. Children with PDA experience extreme difficulties regulating their feelings, and this mood switching often seems to be driven by the child's need to control and makes them unpredictable.

Let's move to the following characteristic of PDA which is:

  • Being comfortable in role play and pretend.

Children with PDA are often highly interested in role play and pretend, but they can be very controlling of the play of their peers or adults.

Lastly, children with PDAs:

  • Displaying obsessive behaviour that is often focused on other people.

Children with PDA frequently have an intense fascination with pretend characters (for example, Elsa) and scenarios or fixations, which often revolve around specific individuals they interact with. This can result in blame, victimisation and harassment that cause problems with peer relationships.

Of course, there are more characteristics of the PDA, and I suggest that if you have a child with PDA in your school, you must prepare your setting to deal with that child.

Dealing with and supporting children with PDAs is difficult for adults, so I will tell you that my first strategy that will help you to be successful in supporting the child with PDA is:

  • Train your whole school in the PDA matter and choose the team to look after the child carefully.

But Bea, you will say, why train the whole school if I have only one child with PDA? Well, from the SEND leader's point of view, training one person is insufficient. The child will be getting from one class to another, plus if other staff does not understand this condition, they may create more stress and anxiety for that child and themselves. So, if you lead your school this way, you will fulfil your duties to care about your staff and children's safety and mental well-being. I'm telling you that supporting the child with PDA can be mentally tricky, and you will have to work cooperatively as a team to help that child. Also, I promise you that all the skills and knowledge from the training will benefit all your children and improve your staff skills. Please do not overlook the well-being of the staff who look after the PDA child.

The following advice is to:

  • Consider a suitable and positive personality match to look after the child.

Somebody: who is a great listener and can use body language to guide the child, knows how to use an invitation approach, positive language, knows how to think and wonder aloud, use indirect communication, who is flexible and can make accommodations, can use socially complex language, use drama and role play, use novelty and variety, knows how to use distraction, planned-ignoring, who knows how to decrease anxiety, reduce possibilities of meltdowns and can deal with them, can use humour, allow plenty of thinking time and always have plan B

Please remember that sometimes it is better not to react, and the behaviour will improve. More control causes more anxiety! So, the less you respond then, the better it gets. Just be kind! Don't take it personally!

My last advice is to:

  • Promote self-awareness, emotional well-being and social skills development.

Use yoga, pet therapy, mindfulness, lego therapy, and drama. This way, you can lower the anxiety and improve coping strategies.

There is plenty more to know about PDAs to understand and help your child and many strategies to help you and your child. Unfortunately, I'm unable to squeeze everything into this episode, but I promised to guide you where to find more information.

So, let me give you book recommendations first.

Brain Inclusive Book recommendations about Pathological Demand Avoidance.
Pathological Demand Avoidance. Books Recommendation.

As usual, there is plenty, but my favourite and the first that I read:

  • Understanding the Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children – a guide for Parents, teachers and other professionals

  • Collaborative Approaches to Learning for Pupils with PDA Strategies for education professionals.

  • The PDA Paradox by Harry Thompson, author, public speaker, and PDA Expert by Experience.

There is more than you can read, and I will place for you the list of the literature I’m aware of and can recommend.

There is also the PDA Society – a charity providing information, support and training for parents, carers, professionals, and individuals with PDAs. I will place the link to their website below the video.

Ok. There you have it. I hope that you find this episode of the VLOG, dedicated to the PDA, useful.

Let me finish by quoting Harry Thompson/ You can find this on page 19 of his book:

“I have always instinctively done the opposite of what people expect of me; unless, of course, people expect me to do the opposite of what’s expected of me, which can be an even bigger problem”.

I wonder what you think. How is your school prepared to deal with PDA children? Do you feel supported by your school leaders? Do you work collaboratively as a team?

Please comment below the video and consider subscribing to my channel, as this will help me to create more videos like this one, and more people will be able to learn for FREE. Please don’t forget to hit the like button.

Right, I nearly forgot about the giveaway items. Thank you to all of you who commented. This week Lego® Duplo set goes to Vicky.

The Lego® mug (and according to the instruction, you can drink from it) goes to Maria.

Congratulation! And let me tell you how grateful I am for every single comment.

Next week, I will answer one of the questions I’ve received from special needs teaching assistant, a case study, and I will give you my strategies on how to help a non-verbal child that expresses challenging behaviour.

Until Next Time

With love



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