‘Natures answer to over-conformity’: deconstructing PDA



Throughout its history autism has been primarily defined in terms of a pathologised deviancy from normative cognitive functionality, despite protestations to the contrary from autistic writers (Sinclair, 1993, Arnold, 2010, Milton, 2011). More recently however, we have witnessed the wider acceptance of a construction concerning a perceived pervasive developmental disorder known as Pathological Demand Avoidance syndrome (PDA). This conceptualisation was first formulated by Elizabeth Newson in the 1980’s (PDA Contact Centre, 2012), yet more recently has been recognised by the National Autistic Society as a variant of an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). This paper deconstructs the psychologisation of autistic agency inherent in the theory supporting PDA, through a personal reflection of an autistic activist and academic who according to such a perspective may well have met the criteria for PDA when a child.

This paper concludes by arguing that the label of PDA represents the medicalising and pathologising of behaviours that from an outsider perspective seem to be differentiated from what is deemed capable by autistic people, but could be seen as the behaviours of an autistic person who has gained a modicum of normative social skills and is simply asserting their agency. By pathologising such behaviour, one could unduly be blunting attempts at autistic self-advocacy.


Author: Dr Damian Milton

Publisher: Online article, Kent Academic Repository, University of Kent