Demand avoidance

You Aut to Know: Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance


I want you all to know something: If you were to look at the way I lived my life–my diet, hygiene, time management, etc. — you might very well think that something was off. You’d be right, not only about me but others with autism, too. After all, people on the spectrum tend to be more inconsistent and disorganized. Most are aware that such behavior is connected to a low threshold for novelty and frustration; this threshold is especially low when practicing self-discipline, which requires a change in the autistic individual’s routine. What’s seldom known by others, however, is what’s involved in that low threshold itself. That’s why for this article, I’m going to tell you all about Pathological Demand Avoidance and the role it plays in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Through growing research, Pathological Demand Disorder (or PDA) is considered to be a part of Autism Spectrum Disorder or possibly even a subtype of the disorder itself. According to The National Autistic Society, PDA causes one to “avoid demands and expectations…[due to] an anxiety-based need to be in control” (source). This can include something even as simple as going to the bathroom–a seemingly trivial task like that could nonetheless pose some sort of demand on the individual to stop doing whatever he or she is doing. Indeed, it might sound hard to believe, but it’s true. Then when you factor in obligations such as laundry, paying bills, and countless other such things, it can overwhelm someone with even a milder form of autism. The fact of the matter is that life is full of demands, and it’s hard enough to tackle them even without ASD. This is why people with autism are so prone to shutting down, why we’re less likely to want to be around people or be involved in other events and situations.

But why does this happen? I believe the answer lies, at least partly, with famous autistic neuroscientist Temple Grandin, who offers her following insight: “…my [and others with autism’s] thinking processes are like an animal’s” (source). Yes, those with autism have more of an animalistic perception; this is not an insult, and in previous articles I’ve stated the same thing in different words — for people with autism, our minds are concerned with what is tangible and real. Since demands can always in some way be novel and require a certain amount of additional time and effort, subjecting both animals and autistics to such things provokes very comparable reactions. Such similarities of processing information have serious consequences in a society that values self-sufficiency and individualism over community, assistance, and safety nets – serious consequences such as homelessness due to being unable to adapt to society’s demands or even being institutionalized.  Yes, sometimes those with autism won’t perform a task due to an innate lack of comprehension (or even desire) –but as shown with PDA, that’s not always the case.

While I’d like this article of mine to have as many solutions as explanations, the treatments and strategies available are mainly for children with an early diagnosis/intervention (such as ABA Therapy, for example). There are so many adults with autism in various forms who received little to no support growing up; there are also just as many who got some kind of help when they were younger but the benefits and services stopped once they turned 21. What about them? We need your help. That’s why if you want to be a part of the cause, please consider offering whatever you can, be it financial or voluntary, to Madison House Autism Foundation. There’s a lot to face with autism, but there’s just as much that you and others can do to make a difference.

1 Comment

  1. Noelie Angevine
    Noelie Angevine09-23-2016

    Even understanding this makes such adifference. Thank you. I think waiting is also a challenge. I observed this with my son. I composed a little waiting sing for him and I would do soft snapping sounds with my fingers in between verses while the microwave heated his food or we were at a red light.

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