There is much debate about whether PDA needs a separate diagnoses from autism or whether indeed there is any difference between it and other subtypes of autism. If you are not sure of exactly what PDA is then please click the link to the list of traits from the PDA society: What is PDA?
As I said in an earlier post I am just a Mum so don’t expect huge amounts of medical evidence and research, this post is based on conversations with my autistic brother who is diagnosed as Aspergers and my son who is diagnosed as ASD using PDA diagnostic criteria. It is intended as a starting point for debate rather than ‘proof’ of PDA as a separate subgroup under the autism umbrella.
The differences our conversations uncovered were;
- Difference in interests and play. My son chooses to play out human relationships, film sequences and parrot conversations with his people shaped toys where as my brother was never interested in this type of play and preferred instead logical problem solving, taking things apart, and technology (anything he could do that had no direct link to human relationships).
- Meltdowns and aggression. My brother did have meltdown but even as an undiagnosed child they had clear triggers on the whole – we may not of understood why certain things upset him but we knew the ones that did, it made it easy for other kids to press his buttons and make him react. I have seen similar patterns in Aspergers children as a TA when children in the class would know trigger points and push them to get he child into trouble. My son on the other hand has much more subtle triggers and he is able more readily to suppress the urge to react if the environment is not a safe one (such as at school) until things build up and come out in a more prolonged and aggressive meltdown usually in a place of safety. Conversely he can seemly a hair trigger when he goes from 0-100 with no warning at all.
- Fears and Anxiety. My brother describes feeling anxious and having panic attacks when he is out of his comfort zone ie in a supermarket or a group of people but being able to decompress when he returns home. His fears are rarely irrational although he has used logic to come to wrong conclusions which created anxiety. He fears doing hints that trigger his anxiety. My son on the other hand describes being afraid all of he time, even in a place of safety he is on high alert. He often has imagined fears similarly to those of a much younger child and for example spent years at our last house believing someone was living in the attic and waiting to do harm. My son can have a panic attack with no other trigger than his mind working over time. Another example of this is when he meets someone he tells me his first thought is they are likely a murderer and so they have to prove to him they are not until he can get to a neutral point and then and only then can he begin to build trust with them. My brother on he other hand would come from a far more neutral and disinterested starting point.
- Creativity and imagination. Both my brother and my son are creative people. My brother practices and refines his technics, is extremely focused and will repeat tasks over and over to get things right, he is an accomplished graphic artist and 3D modeller as a result. To him recognition of his talents is a bonus not a necessity, he would do it anyway. My son is a perfectionist, he wants to be able to do something well from the start. He likes to sit back and watch something done over and over until he has learnt the method completely before he will try. Only when he has done something to his own satisfaction will he present it for someone else to see. He plays guitar and draws in secret, I find the evidence in his waste paper bin. At the point of presenting something if I am either to eager or if he detects a hint of criticism he will not do that activity again for or a long time or even at all.
- Need for personal support. Where is my brother is very much self contained (although he does of course appreciate understanding and friendships in moderation), my son has always been very reliant on special human relationships to see him through life, usually one person in each environment. He can become almost obsessional about that person whether it is me, his best friend or a loved TA or teacher. He suffers greatly with separation anxiety and can have a real need to be physically close with that person where as my brother would find this intensely uncomfortable.
- Saying Yes and No. My brother is able to say yes to things he wants to do but has issues sometimes knowing how to say no in some circumstances and will ignore or avoid the situation or person instead where as for my son no is the go to response and he can not say yes to even things he wants to do very often.
These are just the main areas of different I have observed and most distinct, I would be very interested to know if other PDAers or their parents recognise these traits and he differences between other subgroups of autism. Obviously this is not an extensive study, it is just two autistic people of very different ages (although I have used my memory of my brother at the same age and asked him how he felt then). However I do think there is evidence, at least in my mind, that there are enough strong differences to consider the two as distinctively different. What about you?
For more on my views on PDA clink on the link to my related blog post below:
This blog was published with the kind permission of both my brother and my son.