What Do Parents Of Children With Pathological Demand Avoidance Want Their Friends And Family To Know?

If there is one thing that many of clients who have children with Pathological Demand Avoidance struggle with, it’s enabling their friends and family to understand their life. This post has therefore been written with that in mind – so families like yours can share it with others and increase awareness. One day the world will understand:

Children With Pathological Demand Avoidance….

Are Not Just Being Disobedient 

The pressure that demands place on them cause their anxiety levels to rise. And that rise in anxiety means it’s incredibly difficult for them to cope. They want to please you but the risk of failing to do so is often too great. Please think carefully about how you ask them to do something – even if it’s something you know they would enjoy. Build in choice, and give them as much control as you can. The more in control they feel the more able they will be to do what you would like them to do.

Need Their Parents To Pick Their Battles

Please don’t think a parent is being lax by not picking up on every little thing. All too easily speaking a child about those things at the time they are happening can lead to spiralling behaviour and higher anxiety levels for the child. Instead they are worked on in other ways when both they and their child are in the right place to do so. 

Have Good Days And Bad Days

Like the rest of us, children with Pathological Demand Avoidance have days where they feel they can, and days when even stepping out the door is hard. Don’t assume that just because they felt able to do something yesterday, that they will be able to do it today. Life just isn’t that simple. And if you try to make it that simple, it’s likely that even on their good days children and young people will shy away from doing those things they find difficult in case they are then criticised for being unable to do it on the bad ones. 

Need Understanding Not Criticism

Imagine living in a world where every single thing someone told you to do made you feel anxious. Now imagine having difficulties with social communication that make it hard to explain to others how you feel. Next think how you would feel, if your friends and family didn’t realise how worried you were, and instead shouted or complained at you for being unable to take part. The reality is that the more children with Pathological Demand Avoidance feel understood the lower their anxiety levels will be, and therefore the more likely they are to be able to do the thing you want them to do. The more criticised they feel, the less likely it is that this will happen. 

Often Have Spiky Profiles

Like other children on the Spectrum, children with Pathological Demand Avoidance will often have a distinct profile of strengths and difficulties. But for those with PDA this is often particularly apparent, this may for instance mean a child is fantastic at maths but struggles to pick up a pen in English, or vice verse they may love nothing more than sitting reading a book but the mere sight of numbers may make them feel anxious. It’s important to give them time to excel at the things they find easier, and to introduce those things they find harder gradually – confidence is precious.

Need Reward Schemes To Be Thought Carefully About

Rewards are particularly tricky to get right for young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance. It can be done, but needs to be done carefully. If you want to offer a treat, prize or reward please double check with parents about whether they feel what you have in mind will help their child or will cause them more anxiety. 

Have Parents That Know Them Best

Do not try to second guess, or wonder why they are doing what they are doing. If you want to build a relationship with a child with Pathological Demand Avoidance, listen to their parents. They are the ones who can teach you how to do this successfully. Trust is often hard won by young people with PDA, do not take it personally. Instead respect what their parents say and do your best to follow the steps they give you. 

Are Often Very Passionate About Their Special Interests

Children with Autism process their special interests in the part of their brain that neurotypicals reserve for loving people, this means that their relationship with those interests can be very strong. Don’t be surprised if a child with Pathological Demand Disorder tells you and remembers every fact there is to know about their special interest, but struggles to recall a conversation you had yesterday. If you want them to remember, relate to and engage with what you are saying, tying it into their special interest is a great tactic. 

Can Find It Hard To Back Down 

Because of their need to feel in control, young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance often find it really difficult to back down from an argument. Providing a safe way out is often the best tactic in moving on, engaging directly with the topic in hand rarely works. ‘I’m sorry I made you feel that way’ or ‘I’m sorry that that happened to you’ are both great phrases to use to diffuse difficult situations. Distraction can also work well, my favourite tactic is for someone uninvolved in the situation to come along with a job they need doing that only that person can help with. ICT help works well for me, partly because it’s something my students are often genuinely better at than I am, and partly because when things are tough working with a computer is less stressful than working with a person. 

Are Some Of The Most Creative People I Have Met

If you spend your life trying to cope with anxiety, and figuring your way round problems you become pretty creative. The truth is, as I’ve told you before young people with PDA are the best learners in the world – IF we are the adults around them get the strategies right. IF we enable them to show us who they truly are, behind the layers of anxiety. And you as a family member or friend have the power to do that. Because the truth is getting it right starts with understanding… and with a little bit of help that is something that we can all do.

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2 thoughts on “What Do Parents Of Children With Pathological Demand Avoidance Want Their Friends And Family To Know?

  1. Hi Victoria, wonderful helpful article! I found it intriguing that you wrote “Children with Autism process their special interests in the part of their brain that neurotypicals reserve for loving people, this means that their relationship with those interests can be very strong” – I’ve not heard/read that before, very interesting! – can you point me to research or further info on this link?

    1. It was research carried out by a group of researchers working alongside the team who developed SCERTS – which is tool for planning the next small steps in developing emotional regulation and social communication skills, and was something they discussed extensively during their three day training course. The research was carried out using scanning technology, but I’m afraid although it’s something that I’ve incorporated into my practice, I’ve never searching for the paper.

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