Good quality academic research is essential for developing our understanding of the PDA profile of autism, including how it is best defined and how it relates to other conditions. A range of perspectives is evident currently and research is in its infancy.

Research is needed in order to reduce the possibility of individuals being disadvantaged or discriminated against through misunderstanding. PDA individuals can be particularly vulnerable to being misunderstood, and are often unable to access education (even specialist settings) or employment in later life. As adults, there is some evidence that individuals with this profile are more likely than other autistic people to find themselves in mental health institutions or the criminal justice system. Local and national campaigns consistently demonstrate the failure of services to meet the needs of individuals with a PDA profile of Autism.

Academic research focuses on learning more about the characteristics and causes of this autism profile, and also provides clinicians with information, protocols and surety around diagnostic traits. For some professionals and families, the questions about ‘what to call it’ and ‘where it fits’ have been fundamental and all-consuming. For others, the key focus has been on ‘what helps’.

Research isn’t only done by academics – very valuable information can also come through other routes. Some studies look at the experiences of professionals to find out what is working in practice. Others focus on the lived experience which provides a detailed exploration.

Details of peer-reviewed research papers and less formal studies/commentaries can be found in our resources directory.

At the PDA Society, we’ve conducted a number of surveys as described below, and have documented the lived experience in a series of case studies.​

The Society seeks to work collaboratively with all those with an interest in neuro-developmental conditions and tracks on-going research work. Please contact us if you are involved in research work, we’d love to hear from you.

2023 – PDA & Mental Health

In May 2023, PDA Society ran a survey of PDA adults and their families, as well as parents of PDA children. There were 921 responses to the survey and the results were clear; autistic-PDA people are experiencing a mental health crisis. PDA Society published a report of its key mental health findings from the survey in November 2023, which you can read in full here.

2022 – Research priorities

High quality research should be informed by what matters most to the PDA community, and identifying the key unanswered questions is the first step. The Society is conducting a research priority-setting exercise with the aim of supporting academic institutions in their development of research on PDA. Find out more here.

2021 – PDA & sleep survey

In November 2021 we ran a survey to gather some information around people’s experience of sleep and PDA. 569 people completed the survey in just 12 days and a summary of the findings is available here. The PDA Society is working with the Sleep Charity to develop a new resource on sleep and PDA, based on these results and the lived experience of PDA individuals and sleep practitioners, which we hope will be useful.

2021 – Professional best practice

In March 2021 we ran a survey asking the PDA community to share positive stories of professional best practice and what has worked well in relation to PDA. 120 people responded and a collection of the experiences feature in the PDA best practice videos here.

2021 – Animals & PDA survey

In early 2021 we ran a survey to gather information about people’s experiences of animals and PDA. 681 people responded to the survey and the results are available here

2020 – 5th anniversary survey

We undertook a survey in late 2020 to review the PDA Society’s impact to date and help shape our services and projects for the future, prior to our 5th anniversary on 5th Jan 2021. It was encouraging to see that understanding of PDA had been transformational in terms of outcomes for so many individuals, families and professionals. A detailed summary together with stats and comments from respondents is available here.

2020 – PDA life under lockdown survey

In May 2020 we ran a short survey to gather information about the impact of lockdown on the PDA community. 804 people responded, with 555 providing additional comments. The headline result, along with some of the individual comments we received, are available here.

2019 – Research meeting

On Tuesday 8th January 2019, the PDA Society hosted a research meeting to share current findings, thinking and insights around the ‘PDA profile’ of autism by academic researchers and other stakeholders. The aim was to share existing research work, build greater common understanding, identify research priorities and focus on what can be done to help. 31 participants came from across the UK and Ireland and all found the meeting to be worthwhile and positive. One area of strong agreement was that autism generally is not well understood or supported by services. The PDA Society took away from the meeting the importance of developing a cohesive and inclusive argument for change.

Dame Uta Frith chaired the event and finished by acknowledging that many of us felt some confusion about the mixed conclusions of research to date, but that confusion is an important part of the process and a step on the path towards understanding!

The short report transcribing the proceedings is available.

Thanks goes to all the contributors. Thank you to Prof Francesca Happé for her support for the meeting and providing the venue at King’s College London, and to Kevin Cooper who provided funding for the event.

2018 – PDA Society Survey

In 2018, the PDA Society published a report which reveals how this group of autistic people is at especially high risk of being misunderstood.

The report, entitled “Being Misunderstood”, is based on the largest survey to date on the topic of PDA, conducted online for two weeks in March 2018 and completed by 1,445 parents, professionals, PDA adults and their partners/family.

The results show that very many young people with a PDA profile of Autism are finding it very difficult or impossible to cope in the school environment, and the lack of support available from services means that families are often relying on their own research to work out how to support their children. The results demonstrated the ways in which difficulties can persist into adulthood, exacerbated by a continued lack of understanding and support from services.

70% of 969 young people were not able to tolerate their school environment or were home educated.

71% of 79 adults and 70% of 1194 parents reported that they had found a lack of acceptance or understanding of PDA a barrier to getting relevant support

67% of 675 parents reported that they were dissatisfied with the help received from their Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS); only 20 individuals reported that a CBT-type approach had helped.

49% of 768 young people with diagnoses had been given one that included PDA or a demand avoidant profile, or used similar terminology.

In addition, detailed regional reports and a focused report on the educational experiences of children with a PDA profile of autism were produced:

2016 – Survey of professionals

In 2016, the PDA Society conducted a survey of 52 professionals to look at diagnosis of autism and PDA. A number of barriers were found, including lack of experience with this autism profile and lack of awareness about the research available. That led to work by the PDA Society to write up case studies and encourage further communication so as to spread knowledge more widely.

2015 – Survey of families

Prior to the PDA Society’s inaugural conference in 2015, 138 parents completed a survey describing their experiences. Two results stuck out for us. First that 80% of those who had been involved with CAMHS had had a poor experience. Second that the average number of diagnoses per child was 2.5.