Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is now widely recognised as a distinct profile of autism. Individuals with a PDA profile will share similar difficulties to others on the autism spectrum in the following areas:
In addition to these points (which, being a PDAer, I may come back to argue with elsewhere in this blogsite!), PDA comprises a cluster of distinctive traits:
- Hardwired demand avoidance (with perceived/triggering demands being extremely diverse and including polite requests, prompts, expectations and even our own ideas). Our demand avoidance is so pervasive that we often don't notice it in action. The process is only painful, I think, if our avoidance is hampered or prevented.
- Hardwired extreme anxiety. This is something all PDAers live with from birth, although we may often be so enured to it that we are unaware that it is there.
- Intolerance of uncertainty. We PDAers need to know what's happening. Uncertainty tends to cause us severe anxiety and stress.
- Need for personal control. This trait scores very highly for PDAers. We tend not to want to control others, but our intense need to control our own worlds can spill over onto other people. Our control-need may be explained as by-products of our needs to avoid demands and uncertainty.
- Social mimicking and masking is carried out by a high proportion of PDAers. This tendency appears to be more hardwired than for female-pattern autistics. Again, the operation of this trait is so pervasive as to be imperceptible. This imperceptibleness is, perhaps obviously, two-fold in that observers will be unaware of effective mimicry and masking, although we may appear slightly artificial, shallow and/or inappropriate. This chameleon tendency also causes us, sometimes against our own best interests, to appear just fine on the outside so that potential help/diagnosis is refused.
- Comfortable in role play and/or fantasy. Role playing may be used to avoid demands (for example, imagining being filmed for a TV series while we do a task in order to step away from demand avoidance against doing it). Fantasies are a form of internalised role playing and may often take the form of ongoing private soap operas. They are a way of escaping extreme stress.
- Creativity. PDAers are a highly creative, free-thinking bunch.
- Love of wordplay is a perhaps surprising common PDA trait. PDAers frequently feel playfully compelled to rename other people, pets, places, etc, as well as enjoying punning, rhyming and hyperbole.
- People-focus, sometimes obsessively. PDAers tend to be drawn to people (although we also tend to find social interaction exhausting and/or irritating). We may become obsessive about certain people, for example, developing strong crushes.
- Strong sense of justice and defense of the underdog. We tend to fight tiger-like to protect people or animals being harmed by others.
- Disregard for hierarchy. We tend to dole out respect where it is due, rather than according it to people because of arbitrary rank.
- Impulsiveness. PDAers often have an impulsive streak where, when the mood takes us, we can find it impossible to resist doing what ever random action our whim has taken a fancy to.
- Emotional lability, meaning roller coastering emotions, connects I think to our impulsiveness and anxiety. We may often have alexithymia (lack of awareness of our own emotions) which, coupled with masking, can cause for quite complex emotional expression.
- Proneness to overload and meltdown. We PDAers overload easily. Triggers include sensory bombardment and social stress. If we can't escape what is triggering us, we will likely escalate into meltdown. Meltdown, regardless of how in control and dominating we may appear on the outside, is a totally involuntary process. It may be expressed as physical aggression, or may be more contained as snipy bad mood. I have a hunch that fleeing is another form of meltdown.
- Need for quiet space. We need lots of quiet downtime in order to avoid overload and meltdown. Quiet time is an essential for us and should not be confused with laziness.