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Pathological Demand Avoidance

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Understanding the condition


Students with Pathological Demand Avoidance experience similar difficulties to others on the autistic spectrum such as challenges with social communication, social interaction and requirement of routine and repetitive behaviours. However, students who have Pathological Demand Avoidance also experience an extreme avoidance of everyday tasks and expectations. Students with Pathological Demand Avoidance are driven by an anxiety based need to be in control.

Students with Pathological Demand Avoidance may appear to have better communication and social interaction than others on the autistic spectrum, they often use this to their advantage, but it masks the need for a greater level of support.

It is believed that some students with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) may demonstrate a passive infancy, not reaching for objects, dropping toys, not reaching his/her milestones at different stages and tending to watch rather than participate.

As a child grows, other characteristics include:

  • Resisting and avoiding the ordinary demands of life to an extreme level- if pressured can result in a person displaying “outbursts” or attacks.

  • Adopting social strategies to enable them to avoid demands such as distracting, giving excuses

  • Appearing sociable, but lacks understanding

  • Excessive mood swings and impulsivity

  • Appearing very comfortable in role play and pretence, often the individual may completely withdraw into a fantasy world

  • Displaying obsessive behaviour that is often focused on other people.  

Associated conditions

  • Severe behavioural difficulties – Students with PDA often have difficulties in controlling their emotions, in particular anger.

  • Vestibular (Balance difficulties)

  • Proprioception (Body awareness difficulties)

Challenges faced by students


For an individual with Pathological Demand Avoidance there are many challenges:

  • Being able to undertake necessary tasks for everyday life

  • Social interaction and forming friendships - Whilst they may appear social, the individual will lack a depth in understanding for example have difficulties in seeing boundaries, display confusing and contradictory behaviour such as your child hugs you whilst at the same time saying, “I hate you”

  • Boundaries and social norms - Failure to understand and adhere to the unwritten boundaries that exist between adult and child.

  • Experiencing excessive mood swings and impulsivity

  • Obsessive behaviour- Often related to people this can be a barrier to social relationships as students become obsessed with the people they interact with, sometimes leading to them being victimised or harassed.

  • Sensory differences – Difficulties processing sensory information such as smell, taste, touch, sight and sound.