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Introduction to PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)

An introductory video about PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance)



Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)


Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) is a proposed sub-type of autism spectrum disorder. Characteristics ascribed to the condition include greater refusal to do what is asked of the person, even to activities the person would normally like.


Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a developmental disorder which is distinct from autism but falls under the spectrum. It is a pervasive developmental disorder (meaning it affects all areas of development) and was first identified by Elizabeth Newson in 2003, although it is still not currently recognised in many tools used for diagnosing autism.


It is a complex, challenging and misunderstood condition that is often ignored or not even recognised by many professionals. It is worth noting that strategies which are helpful for learners with autistic spectrum disorder may not be useful in cases of PDA.


Core features of PDA are:

  • A need to resist normal, everyday demands made by others
  • This resistance appears to be a way of managing acute anxiety
  • Unlike those with autism, learners with PDA may use social skills to manipulate; these skills are, however, at a functional and logical level rather than at a deeper emotional level.


Young people with PDA tend to sit on the side lines just watching what is going on. They can be described as 'actively passive', letting things drop to the floor from their hands. They develop strong objections to normal requests. This is unlike young people with ASD who tend to lack social response and empathy, and tend to have poor body language and stereotypical behaviour.


Young people with PDA devote themselves to resisting ordinary demands, and as their language develops this can become worse. They may well acknowledge the demand but then can come up with a myriad of excuses as to why they cannot comply such as, "my legs won't work", "the teddy told me not to do that," etc.


They may crawl underneath furniture and say that they cannot do something because they are 'stuck' and often use fantasy to withdraw, pretending to be a cat or a super hero. This is unlike young people with ASD who may be reluctant to follow a demand, but this tends to be by ignoring or shutting out pressure in a non-social way with few direct strategies for avoidance. Their approach is more direct than devious.


Young people with PDA are more likely to:

  • resist demands obsessively (100%)
  • be socially manipulative (100% by age of 5)
  • show normal eye contact
  • show excessive lability of mood and impulsivity
  • show social mimicry (including gesture)
  • show role play (more extended and complete than mimicry)
  • show other types of symbolic play
  • be female (50%)



Useful ways of concealing demands

  • Would you do...
  • Could you...
  • If you're happy to...
  • When you have finished with...could you...
  • Do you mind going/doing...
  • Is it ok with you...
  • How do you feel about...
  • I wish I knew someone who could help with...
  • Look at that, now it's time to...
  • You choose, what job shall we do next...
  • I bet you can't five minutes
  • Don't you clear that up...
  • This task or this one...
  • Do you want lunch at 12 or 1...
  • How long will it take in the morning to eat breakfast...


Please visit the following websites for more information



If you are concerned that your child may be showing signs of demand avoidance please contact the ALNCo @ or your child's class teacher.