One Mum’s view on Pathological Demand Avoidance

I am just a Mum so what do I know about the in’s and outs of diagnoses and criteria or why one thing is in a diagnostic manual and something else is not?

I am not a crusader, a radical or a ‘member of a cult’ as I was recently accused of being! I am just a Mum seeking help for her son and feeling compelled to write about PDA to bring attention to it because autistic children are suffering, having breakdowns and being forced out of schools.

My son was unsupported and undiagnosed for years because (according to professionals) he;

  • Made too much eye contact
  • was too social
  • Appeared to cope too well with the world

He was also

  • selectively mute
  • self harming
  • highly anxious in certain situations to the point of a child in a war zone (according to CAMHS)
  • In a constant state of fight or flight during term time
  • Extremely sensory sensitive
  • seemingly had little or no hunger response

I went into looking for help with an open mind, I even asked if it was something I was doing.

I tried every course, strategy, bit of advice I was offered. I was open and honest about my parenting, my past and my current situation. I allowed myself to be critiqued , questioned and judged as I outlined in this previous blog post:

Delayed ASD Diagnoses – 10 Ridiculous ‘Reasons’ Not To Listen To Parental Concerns.

Eventually they concluded nothing was lacking and I am actually down on record as being a ‘exemplary parent’ by more than one agency.

It became clear to me that my son was autistic and not only to me, I even had parents coming up to me in the park assuming my son was already diagnosed. However it was also clear that my son did not present in totally familiar ways to other autistic family members or autistic children and adults I had worked with in the past.

Although each was different as every autistic and non autistic person is, there were threads of similarities that ran through. My son had less of these familiar threads and many additional threads which seemed to be part of his autistic make-up. He seemed far more volatile and unpredictable and far less reassured by routine for example.

Anyway he remained undiagnosed but under the ADOS autism team and without much in the way of support. He began to breakdown in school and was eventually given a full-time one to one teaching assistant and a counsellor once a fortnight but even so it got to the point I could no longer get him in.

I had been in touch with the National Autistic society who were supportive and agreed that the reasons given by the diagnostic team should not exclude my son from a diagnoses of ASD and I was scanning their site for tips on school refusal at my wit’s end when I spotted a link to a description of something called ‘Pathological Demand Avoidance.’ I was so amazed by what I was reading that I ask my Dad who was staying with us at the time to take a look and he said ‘but that is exactly L, why has this never been mentioned?’

I emailed the link on PDA and a letter the National autistic society helped me draft asking why if a diagnoses could not be made why hadn’t a referral? They called me in and diagnosed him with ASD that week. They said they had considered the information on PDA but that it was not something they would diagnosed specifically as it was not in the diagnostic manual but that it came under the ASD umbrella anyway.

Help was not forth coming as a result of the diagnoses however because traditional ASD approaches were used which did not work for my son, there was also a lot of isolating and ‘pushing’ of my son which only made things worse. When I suggested the use of PDA strategies I was accused of medicalising my son. My son ended up out of school as a result of a possible breakdown or extreme autistic burn out caused by the use of the wrong approaches.

I went to a PDA society workshop, for the first time recognised my son in what was being said, and met other parents had experienced this too. I now use what I have learnt there to support my son in home education. He is thriving to such an extent professionals can not believe the change in him. He has recovered, for the most part, from his experiences at school and our relationship has blossomed because he appreciates being understood. He does not self-harm, meltdown or get aggressive as he has no need, his needs are met. He has such a zest for learning and despite dyslexia is working to GCSE levels in some areas and he is not even 12 yet.

If PDA had been recognised then the school would have had to employ tactics suitable for a PDA child, they could of looked it up, they would of taken me seriously, my son may of still been in school. This is why I fight for PDA to be recognised.

I don’t know if it should be a separate diagnoses, seperate presentation in the diagnostic manuals or just part of a rewrite of the autism criteria but there needs to be some sort of shortcut so that schools and professionals know that this child needs this different approach. However there is also a theory (which I agree with as a theory, as I say I am just a mum) that PDA strategies would actually be more affective for all autistic children and that could work too but would mean a massive change of approach and attitude from professionals.

Some of these points are made in this thought-provoking blog by Paula Sanchez, much of which I agree or am at least open-minded to, but I also wonder how this would work in practice?

PDA & Parenting

Stephs Two Girls has also written a wonderful blog piece on PDA and the difference between it and other conditions/presentations:

So to summarise I can’t argue the point for adding PDA to the diagnostic manuals in fancy words or with oodles of research articles. All I  know that this criteria and the related strategies have helped my son more than anything else and that he was unable to access them at school because it is not recognised and, most importantly, he suffered terribly as a result. I will feel forever indebted to the PDA society for enabling to turn our lives around.

9 thoughts on “One Mum’s view on Pathological Demand Avoidance

  1. Great post and I nodded along to all of this. You are not alone; I have heard plenty of other families who have felt similar. I feel we were just lucky because I stumbled across PDA quite early on, but I’m pretty sure we would have experienced much more difficult times if I hadn’t, and if we hadn’t encountered good professionals along the way. As you say, the PDA descriptors just fitted so much better than other literature available on autism and as such they really helped. I understand why those who enjoy language want to discuss it, but they should bear in mind the effects on those living with it. And we also appreciate the PDA Society very much! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment. It is all about the children in the middle of all of this and getting them the understanding and support they need before they suffer as a result of not having it isn’t it?


  2. Cathy walters Jun 6, 2018 — 7:58 pm

    Brilliant, my story is very similar. Without finding PDA we were heading down a dark and complicated path. Now I know about it and use strategies, the path is still complex but someone turned on a light. Thanks for your blog x


    1. Thanks for your supportive comment and for reading x


  3. I can’t believe I’ve never read this post before! Heartfelt and so simply articulated. Your experience and words represent so many others and your blog has blossomed since you wrote this. You are awesome in every way. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah that’s so much. I was so angry and upset when I wrote this. Frustrated that I couldn’t find the right words to defend what I knew about PDA. I have grown a lot since then but it is still hard to see PDA so often dismissed as a fiction or a parenting fail. Right back at you with the ‘awesome in every way’ your blog posts were a huge help and inspiration to me in those early days and still are. X

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I share your thoughts and sentiments exactly. Accidentally stumbling across PDA online has turned my daughter’s life around. Life will always be a struggle for her but now she has our understanding to help support her. Without discovering PDA I honestly question whether she would still be alive today. It’s for that reason I feel so desperate to share the ‘word’ and it breaks my heart to think of all those families out there who are struggling and turning to professionals who have no clue (and often inadvertently make things worse).
    Thank you for your blog. It touches lives in a very positive way.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment and for sharing your experiences. This is such a similar story for so many families and it why so many of us are out there fighting and educating about the PDA profile. I am glad you found you way forward and understand completely your comments about what may of happened if you had not. People who disregard PDA have no idea of the extremes it pushes children to or the difference a changed approach can make. All the best to you and your daughter.


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