PDA – A parent’s account of the early indicators

I often see questions in PDA groups such as ‘When did you first suspect PDA?’or ‘What does PDA look like in a 3 year old?’ or ‘My 2 or 3 year old does x,y or z, could they have PDA?’  So, I thought it might be helpful to list the traits of PDA and show you how they looked to me when my son was little.

Passive early history in the first year, avoiding ordinary demands and missing milestones.

A few things stood out to me about my son’s development in the first year.

  • he did not put his arms up to be held as I had seen other babies do.
  • He did not crawl. I remember baby proofing the house in anticipation of him moving around and he just didn’t, he would sit on his blanket in the middle of the room quite contentedly.
  • He didn’t really chatter but he could hum a recognisable tune from 8 months which amazed me.
  • I brought him a door bouncer, full of excitement I popped him in it at about 10 months keen to see him jump about, he just hung there not moving. I’d never seen a baby do that.
  • He showed no interest in walking until around 14 months and then walked and ran on the same day!

Continuing to avoid demands, panic attacks if demands are escalated

The first sign of demand avoidance I remember was resistance to being strapped in. I didn’t see it as demand avoidance at the time but remember being so puzzled by the fact he always resisted being put in to the pushchair or the car seat despite my consistency and not giving in.

Later this was extended to putting his coat on, going to nursery, being asked to walk, the list is seemly endless and would result in him banging his head on the floor if I persisted. I tried everything from ignoring the behaviour to putting him on the naughty step, but nothing worked.

Surface sociability, but apparent lack of sense of social identity

At nursery the staff use to comment on how popular he was but I noticed that what was actually happening was he was playing and other children were copying him, there seemed to be a fascination with his lack of interest in them that made him so much more attractive.

Rapid and extreme changes of mood and impulsiveness

I put much of my sons more difficult behaviour down to the terrible twos but the ‘tantrums’ were awful and seemingly set off by nothing. I now know they were meltdowns. Hanging off lamp posts to avoid walking down the street, violent outbursts, stripping naked….

Again none of the usual parenting tips worked, not strategies, nor punishment, nor bribes, or distractions.

Comfortable in role play and pretending

Dress up and pretend play was always my sons ‘thing’ even as he got older.

Some notable examples were his imaginary gang, the balloon that he drew a face on declaring it was his best friend (until the day ‘Balloonie’ died of an unfortunate accident whilst being cuddled) and the month he became a dog and refused any communication other than to bark, whine or growl.

Language delay seemingly the result of passivity, often caught up quickly

He said the word Jess at around 9 months (which was the name of our dog) but his speech did not progress from there as I expected and in fact, he later made up his own language and gestures which saw him through until just after his 3rd birthday when, over night, he began talking in sentences.

Obsessive behaviour

His obsessions came in the form of cars which he sorted into colours and lined up.

He also had a fixation with men, both real and plastic ones. This, at times, caused me some embarrassment for example when, as a fairly newly single mother, I would be dragged up to some unsuspecting gentleman with my son loudly announcing ‘look mummy a man’.

The greatest obsession of all however was reserved for the blue man. It was a small plastic man, easily lost or misplaced that he would not leave the house without, would not play without, and was the bane of my life. It was later replaced with a stuffed dog called Scrappy who to this day is by his side but is at least bigger than 2cm so easier to find.

Neurological signs as in other autism spectrum conditions

My son has sensory issues around noise, light, food, clothing. Aversions to mud and sand. Difficulty in crowded places, such as supermarkets, from birth, only coping early on thanks to his travel mobile constantly attached and playing on his carrier/car seat. He is selectively mute with strangers, makes variable eye contact, and is very protective of his personal space. He was happy and even prefered to play independently most of the time. When he first went to school he had an extensive vocabulary and a very adult way of delivery and he was often referred to as the little professor by other parents. When he was younger he would also take things literally and still does on occasion.

But there is so much more to my son and Autistic/PDA children in general

My son is not a list of problems, actually he is amazing, funny, talented (he wrote his first piece of music at 4), highly intelligent, philosophical, has his own unique style, a strong sense of justice, loves animals and family and can be deeply compassionate.

This just my experience of how my son presented as a younger child and as the old saying goes ‘if you have met one autistic child, you have met one autistic child’, no two people autistic or otherwise are exactly alike.

If you think your child may be autistic then the first stop is your GP who can refer you to an assessment team although many areas, like mine, still do not recognise PDA sadly, something many of us are campaigning to change. For more information on Pathological Demand Avoidance visit the PDA Society website by following the link below.


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