Is challenging behaviour an inevitable aspect of the PDA profile?

It was great to see PDA (Pathological demand avoidance) highlighted on Victoria Derbyshire yesterday but watching the piece, one thing really struck me:

Challenging behaviour was presented as part of a PDA profile. It’s not.

Yes, many PDA children do or have exhibited it at some time but it is not a trait of PDA, it is a symptom of being misunderstood, it is a sign of being desperate and overloaded because anxieties have not been recognised or triggers identified. It is a PDA child’s cry for help.

The same can be said for another common reaction – self harm.

Our children are being failed, and being set up to fail, our children’s needs are not even being recognised let alone met. How do I know this? I know this because my son used to react in exactly the same way as the children on the film, he harmed himself and others from an early age. I tried to understand, I followed the advice of professionals, I blamed myself and was blamed by others, I scoured the internet, I begged the school, I begged the assessment team, I did everything I was asked to try following it word for word, I went to the school and voiced my concerns to Teachers, sencos and headteachers at least 3 times a week for 6 years. Nothing helped until I learnt about PDA and used;

The very specific strategies needed by an autistic child with a PDA Profile.

I tried to get the school on board but because (despite being diagnosed with autism using the PDA traits criteria) my area does not recognise PDA. Instead of seeing these strategies were starting to work at home and getting on board with them, the school and LA stuck rigidly to classic autism approaches (so much for a person centred approach eh?). More than that I was accused of medicalising my son by making up a diagnoses of PDA and I was reported to social services. Social services where fully supportive of my approach and gave me a pat on the back and sent me on my way, school maintained there position and so it broke down, leaving me no option but to home educate.

Devastated as I was at the time at my son being forced out of state education, it turned out to be the key to securing him a better future.

You see once my son was being approach in a PDA friendly way all of the time (instead of just when he was at home) aggressive acting out of distress stopped completely, attempts to run away or self harm stopped completely. He remains naturally anxious and needs reassurance and to feel both supported and in control of what is happening around him as much as possible because these are traits of PDA but he is no longer exhibiting the signs of trauma ie challenging behaviour. Instead his loving, funny, caring, bright and engaging personality is able to shine through. He is beginning to be able to understand his own strengths and weaknesses and regulate himself by knowing when he needs down time, time alone or time to prepare and when he feels receptive to being more social or trying new things.

I suppose what am trying to say is the lack of acknowledgement and understanding of PDA by the education and healthcare system is traumatising our children, they then behave in desperate ways that are against their natures including, in many cases, aggression.

PDA children are being failed on every possible level and then written off by society as if it is their fault and we, their families, are left to pick up the pieces the best we can. Things need to change and I believe change starts with PDA being recognised as a diagnoses. Mike Penning MP has proposed an early day motion on this matter and you can help by writing to your MP and asking them to support it. Everything you need to know and a template letter is available through the PDA society just follow this link:

For more about the approaches that helped my son follow the link to my blog on the low demand approach

The Principles of a No Demand or Low Demand Approach & How it has worked for Us.

If you need advice and support for your PDA child or think your child may have a PDA profile then visit The PDA Societies website

7 thoughts on “Is challenging behaviour an inevitable aspect of the PDA profile?

  1. Absolutely spot on. Behavior is a reflection of how well the person is, specifically how they are being treated and how their environment is set up. A holistic approach to pda is crucial for all areas of the persons life to be in balance and peace. Great points and great writing. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thank you so much for your lovely comments, I am glad it made sense to others and not just me 😁


  2. Thats like saying a pain in arm in not an inevitable part of a heart attack. most cases its a very very very clear indicator. In a recent poll of 104 PDA people, 93 showed violent aggression as part of their PDA profile. 36 Of those had low or no demands and reduced anxiety. By saying its not part of a pda profile you are basically blaming parenting. …in much the same way drs blaming bad diet on a heart attack. PDA is anxiety based with lots of sensory processing issues..this cannot be removed entirely and so the reactions are inevitable.


    1. Hi, I am so glad you made the parent blaming point as I was worried the post would be taken that way and was very careful to avoid giving that impression so sorry if that is what you got from it. I am a parent of a pda child who’s future as I saw it was either to kill me or kill himself so the last thing in the world I would wish to do was to blame a parent in this awful position, no rather I blame the lack of information and services about pda and the refusal to acknowledge it. Using your heart attack comparison, I would say that like dead from a heart attack, challenging behaviour in PDA is largely avoidable given early sinter intervention, support, change of life style and environment and approach. You are completely right about the high numbers of children with pda who do exhibit challenging behaviour. In my view this is because they are not understood by society and the reasons in some cases a child may continue with this behaviour even after reduced demands are often linked to that lack of understanding from the outside world. So the parent may be offering low demands but other family members have different ideas, schools, even the very best ones, are demanding by there very nature, I could go on. The second reason that a child may continue is the damage already done to mental health which may take time to heal or additional outside help and we all know how easy it is to get that right? I am under no illusions, I was lucky to of discovered pda before it was too late for my son, I am lucky to be a single parent so have little interference from the other parent, I am lucky my son has no siblings that I have to negotiate with too, I am lucky that I had experience as a TA and the confidence to home educate my son. All of that luck does not change the fact that my son was in the top tier of violence ie I was afraid he would cause my death and now he is not violent at all p, all that has changed are the approaches I use. I would like services to be able to support PDA children so that they could drop the fight response even if they are in school, have larger families or extra demands purely because of the inevitabilities of life. I believe that is possible if there was the money and the will. Thank you so much for reading and commenting and giving a different opinion that made me look harder at mine.


  3. nomagicwanduk Apr 11, 2019 — 1:10 pm

    Hi, as one of the families featured in the Victoria Derbyshire Show, it is great to have come across this blog as a result of the show. I totally respect everything you have covered in this blog and so pleased that your son is no longer violent. PDA strategies are SO paramount for our PDA children, however sadly for us it’s not just PDA that we are dealing with and the other additional mental conditions impact on behaviours. Great blog though😊xxx


    1. Thank you for reading and raising awareness for this often very hidden issue, I completely get it that many children have very complex and intertwined needs that are difficult or impossible to get to the root of the issue and that some needs might never be able to be met. Meeting as many as we can/can find is all any parent can do in these circumstances. X

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m guessing the classic autism strategies they were stuck on probably wouldn’t have worked out well for a classic autistic kid, either.

    Liked by 1 person

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