Today is the start of Autism Acceptance Week 2023 and we’d like to talk about PDA which is an often misunderstood profile seen in some Autistic people.

We want all Autistic people to be understood, accepted, and correctly supported, but there are many PDA Autistic people who aren’t, because of how misunderstood PDA is – please read and share this article to help change this. Alternative versions of this article are also available to share on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Let’s talk about PDA

The most significant trait of a PDA profile of Autism involves resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life.

Avoiding demands is something everyone does to different degrees and for different reasons, however, demand avoidance in PDA is all-encompassing and has some unique aspects

Demands of all types, including things you might not think of as demands and things an individual wants to do, can trigger demand avoidance in PDA. Some people explain that it’s the expectation (from someone else or yourself) which leads to a feeling of lack of control, then anxiety increases, and panic can set in.

In addition, there can be an ‘irrational quality’ to the avoidance – for instance, the feeling of hunger inexplicably stopping someone from being able to eat.

‘Social strategies’ are often used as a way of avoiding demands. This includes things like distraction (changing the subject); procrastinating (saying “I’ll do it later”); excusing yourself (giving reasons as to why you can’t); and withdrawing into role play or fantasy.

Avoidance can also vary depending on a person’s capacity for demands at the time and between environments. ‘Masking’, where people hide or ‘hold in’ some of their differences/challenges in certain environments or with certain people, is very common with PDA. Significantly, this means that challenges reported in one setting (often home) may not always be seen in others (such as school or other settings). This can and does lead to misunderstandings.

A PDA profile is also a spectrum and presents differently in different people – for instance, sometimes it may be internalised, where avoidance may seem more subtle/passive, and in other cases it may be externalised and obvious.

Demand avoidance is the most significant, but not the only, trait in a PDA profile

PDA people can also appear ‘socially able’, but this may mask underlying differences and challenges in social interaction and communication. Other traits include experiencing intense emotions and mood swings and intense focus, often on other people (real or fictional).

Also, conventional approaches in support, parenting or teaching are ineffective and unhelpful for PDA people. Low arousal approaches, which keep anxiety to a minimum and provide a sense of control, are good starting points when thinking about what helps with PDA. A partnership based on trust, flexibility, collaboration, careful use of language and balancing of demands works best.

Our PDA panda ambassador symbolises these approaches and the PANDA mnemonic provides a useful summary:

  • Pick Battles
  • Anxiety Management
  • Negotiation and Collaboration
  • Disguise and Manage Demands
  • Adaptation

Thank you for reading – because a PDA profile is often missed, misunderstood or misdiagnosed, it’s important for everyone to have this Autism profile on their radar.

Please explore our website for further information, resources and support.