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Navigating Pathological Demand Avoidance as a Parent: Tips and Strategies

As a mom, you always want the best for your child. You want to see them thrive and be happy, and you do everything in your power to make that happen. However, parenting can be challenging, especially when your child has special needs. I know this all too well, as my daughter was diagnosed with pathological demand avoidance (PDA), a subtype of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), when she was five years old.

woman reading book while sitting on chair

PDA is characterized by an extreme avoidance of everyday demands and expectations, as well as a need for control. Children with PDA may have difficulty following routines, completing tasks, and interacting with others. They may also have a high level of anxiety and may engage in problematic behaviors to avoid demands. My daughter struggled with all of these things, and it was often difficult to know how to support her and manage her behaviors.

One of the most challenging aspects of PDA for my daughter was her difficulty with transitions. She would become extremely anxious and upset when asked to switch from one activity to another, even if it was something as simple as moving from the living room to the kitchen. This made everyday tasks, such as getting dressed or going to school, a struggle. We tried everything we could think of to make transitions easier for her, from using visual schedules to providing lots of warning before a change was going to happen. It was a constant process of trial and error, and there were many times when we felt like we were at a loss.

Another challenge we faced was my daughter’s difficulty with following routines and completing tasks. She would often become overwhelmed and shut down when asked to do something, even if it was something she enjoyed. This made it difficult for her to complete even simple tasks, such as getting dressed or brushing her teeth. We found that breaking tasks down into smaller steps and using visual aids, such as pictures or written instructions, helped her to feel more successful and less overwhelmed.

It was also hard for my daughter to interact with others, as she was often anxious and unsure of how to engage with her peers. She would often withdraw or act out in social situations, which made it difficult for her to make friends. We worked with her therapist to help her learn social skills and cope with her anxiety, and while it was a slow process, we saw improvement over time.

Dealing with PDA can be overwhelming for both parents and children. It can be difficult to know how to support your child and manage their behaviors. Here are a few tips for coping with PDA that we found helpful:

  1. Seek out support: It’s important to remember that you don’t have to navigate PDA alone. Reach out to local support groups, therapy services, and other resources for help and guidance. We found a PDA support group in our area and it was a lifeline for us. It was so helpful to connect with other parents who were going through similar challenges and to get advice and support from people who understood what we were going through.
  2. Create a calm environment: Children with PDA may be easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation. Try to create a calm, predictable environment at home to help reduce anxiety and improve behavior. We found that limiting screen time and providing a quiet space for my daughter to retreat to when she was feeling overwhelmed helped her to regulate her emotions.
  3. Use visual aids: Visual aids, such as schedules and social stories, can be helpful for children with PDA. They can provide structure and help your child understand what is expected of them. We used a visual schedule to help my daughter know what to expect each day.
  4. Be patient: Parenting a child with PDA can be frustrating at times. It’s important to remember to be patient and to try not to take their behaviors personally. I had to remind myself many times that my daughter’s behaviors were not a reflection of who she was as a person, but rather a result of her condition. It was hard, but I tried my best to stay patient and to offer her the support and understanding she needed.
  5. Seek professional help: If you are struggling to manage your child’s behaviors, it may be helpful to seek out the advice of a mental health professional. They can provide strategies and support to help you and your child cope with PDA. We worked with a child psychologist who specialized in ASD, and she was incredibly helpful in providing us with strategies and support.

Dealing with PDA can be challenging, but with the right support and strategies, you can help your child thrive and succeed. Remember to take care of yourself as well – parenting is a demanding job, and it’s important to prioritize your own well-being. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it and to take breaks when you need to recharge.

If you have a child with PDA or think your child may have PDA, know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you and your child, and with the right support and strategies, you can make a big difference in your child’s life.