What is PDA?

What is Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)?

(Taken from PDA Society)

PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) is widely understood to be a profile on the autism spectrum, involving the avoidance of everyday demands and the use of ‘social’ strategies as part of this avoidance. PDA individuals share autistic characteristics and in addition have many of the ‘key features’ of a PDA profile:

  • resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life
  • using social strategies as part of the avoidance
  • appearing ‘socially able’ but this may mask underlying differences/difficulties in social interaction and communication
  • experiencing intense emotions and mood swings
  • appearing comfortable in role play, pretence and fantasy
  • intense focus, often on other people (real or fictional)
  • a need for control, often driven by anxiety or an automatic ‘threat response’
  • conventional approaches in support, parenting or teaching are ineffective

Autism is dimensional, this means that it varies a lot from one person to another. A PDA profile describes one way in which autism can present.

Demand avoidance in PDA is a question of can’t not won’t: PDAers often describe it as a neurological tug of war between brain, heart and body.   

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Approaches that can help a person with PDA often seem unconventional: a partnership based on trust, flexibility, collaboration, careful use of language and balancing demands often works best. PDA LOGO (1) (1).png

Pick battles

Anxiety management

Negotiation and collaboration                                                               

Disguise and manage demands


Pick Battles

When working with PDA children/young people, it’s important to minimise demands where possible and ‘pick your battles’ in what non-negotiables you prioritise.

Helpful approaches include:

  • minimising rules and expectations
  • allowing some choice and control
  • being really clear about why something needs to be done
  • accepting that some things can’t be done

Anxiety Management

When supporting a child/young person with a PDA profile, it is important to understand and accept that their behaviours are underpinned by anxiety and a need to feel in control. Distressed behaviours arise when our life experiences (e.g. sensory, emotional, social demands) exceed our capacity to cope and we feel overwhelmed and lose control. Therefore, it would be useful to consider that prevention is better than cure.

Helpful approaches include:

  • using a low-arousal approach and reduce uncertainty                                        
  • recognising the signs of anxiety
  • understanding and supporting sensory regulation
  • recognising signs of avoidancebeing supportive during episodes of distress  

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Negotiation and Collaboration

Working with children/young people with a PDA profile in a collaborative and proactive way to negotiate and find solutions can be really beneficial. Once we understand a PDA learner’s perspective and establish trust, any support that is put in place will be more effective and meaningful.

Helpful approaches include:  

  • keeping calm
  • solving challenges by collaborating and negotiating 
  • building trust and being fair     


Disguise and Manage Demands

Reframing demands to make them feel less ‘demanding’ is a key technique when supporting PDA learners. Remember, the aim isn’t to ‘trick’ a PDA learner into complying with a demand but to reduce some of the unnecessary demands and change the way demands are experienced.

Helpful approaches include:

  • being aware of the different types of demands (e.g. direct, indirect, demands within demands and ‘I ought to’ demands)
  • being cautious with things like rewards, praise and sanctions
  • adapting the language you use and phrasing requests indirectly
  • monitoring tolerance levels and matching demands accordingly
  • working collaboratively


Many helpful approaches for PDA learners can turn teaching norms ‘on their head’. However, these adaptations often prove transformational when nothing else has worked. Most conventional approaches, based on firm boundaries and the use of rewards, consequences and praise, are often ineffective and counterproductive for a PDA learner.

Helpful approaches include:  

  • building a trusting relationship with the learner and their family
  • trying humour, distraction, novelty and role play
  • being flexible, having a plan B and allowing plenty of time for tasks
  • working on balancing the amount of give and take

Useful Information:



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Contact Details

Charles Darwin Community Primary School

Darwin Street
Castle, Northwich

Main Contact: Mrs Marianne Bennett (Acting Headteacher)

Tel: 01606 75194
Fax: 01606 784143

SEND Contact: Miss Joanne Tilley


Governor: Mr Graham Emmett


Clerk to the Governors: Gemma Reeves

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