Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Updated: 23/01/17

Characteristics of the condition:

  • Obsessively resists demands (to a pathological degree) through social manipulation and control strategies
  • Very passive early history, increasingly active passive as ordinary demands increase
  • Comfortable in role play and pretending, uses acting skills in this
  • Sociable but lacks sense of identity, status, obligation, responsibility or boundaries. May have social obsessions (blaming, harassing)
  • Often have language delay (passivity) but usually catch up. Little pragmatic problem, but bizarre content
  • Mood swings. Highly impetuous.  Panic attacks, which may include violence

The child as a learner:

Some key characteristics of a child with PDA are listed below – not all will be seen with every child

  • A very poor sense of self esteem, which often results in children expressing that they can’t do something or won’t like it as a first response. Lack of confidence in crossing the threshold necessary to put in the effort required
  • An expressed desire to be on a par with or better than others, but not necessarily to put in the effort required
  • An ambivalence about succeeding and enjoying an experience or activity, typified by the child who destroys their work on completion when it is commented on by the teacher
  • A lack of permanence and transfer of learning and experience, which means that there can be very sudden and dramatic setbacks for the child after relatively prolonged periods of settled behaviour and progress. This leads to a feeling among staff that changes have been brought about by external features, such as the environment and the way people react to the child, rather than an internal change in the child
  • Very poor emotional regulation means the child is prone to mood swings and phases which can be both short lived or last for longer periods of time. The child’s level of tolerance is very much mood related and there can be what are best seen as ‘can’t help it’ days when it is unproductive to pursue such demands.  There is often a sense of the child being emotionally exhausted from always being on the watch for the next demand
  • A desire to have friendships and relationships with other children but inadvertently sabotaging this through the need to be in control, manipulating and mediating or refereeing others’ interactions. The child may also blame and victimise other children for things that have gone wrong, even though this is often attributable to their own behaviour.  This can include the holding of grudges over long periods of time and planned retribution
  • As well as the disruption caused by the explosive behaviour or aggression that may be used in response to pressure (already described as a panic attack) the child may sometimes articulate threats of violence and use obscene and shocking language
  • Extensive involvement in fantasy and role play in a way that cuts off the child and leads to some of them feeling that they have features of those that they mimic or identify with. This can be problematic (e.g. a feeling of being omnipotent when identification is with cartoon characters, superheroes etc).

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