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Not Everything Is PDA

Funny story.


There was a post in a PDA group from someone who was wondering how to get their friend to do something. Friend was PDA, they had talked to the friend about this thing before, but the friend just wasn’t doing it. So they were sure it was because of PDA and they didn’t know how to talk to them again without it becoming even more of a demand which would guarantee they would never be able to do the thing, advice wanted please.


So people give their advice, more details are given, y’know, the usual. Then after a time, there’s an update. It turns out that, unbeknownst to OP, their friend is actually in this same group and has read everything! So they talk about it, aaaaand…the problem was actually due to a miscommunication that led to the friend not being clear on what had been asked of them. And now that they were clear, the friend was fine to do it.

In other words, PDA had nothing to do with it.


This kind of thing happens ALL. THE. TIME. Just not as humorously or with as good of an outcome. Because instead of autonomous adults who can express themselves and talk things out, it’s often caregivers with all the power assuming things about their vulnerable charges.

People get a diagnosis of PDA or even just think it fits their situation, and then suddenly every time their child/person is resistant to something or gets upset it’s, “Welp, must be cuz it’s a demand, what’re you gonna do?” And it creates SO MUCH missed opportunity.

What if it’s actually a sensory issue that could be solved for? Or an executive functioning issue that could be helped with support? Or maybe they just need more time to transition than you’re giving them?


Or what if they just didn’t understand what you said??


If you don’t investigate, you will never know. Which means the person in question never gets the help they need.


Lowering demands is a valid strategy for reducing overwhelm, for more than just PDAers. But removing demands cannot be the only tool in your toolbox. At best you will miss opportunities to help them with their challenges, and at worst you will end up in a boundary-less home where *everyone* feels out of control.


Not every explosive child is PDA. Not everyone who says “no” and stands by it is PDA. And even when a person *is* PDA, you still have to stay curious and not hit every problem with the PDA hammer.

And so, here is a non-exhaustive list of possible reasons that a person might not be able to do something that may help guide your investigations. And it really is non-exhaustive. I’ve had this infographic sitting around for months, and every time I went back to it I came up with more things to add! So yeah, if it’s not on here, maybe keep digging. Also, keep in mind that one task can have multiple areas of struggle around it, so don’t assume that the first problem you find is the only one!

Please note: If you are not interested in picking apart your own motivations or do not feel you are in the right headspace for it, please do not feel pressured to do so by this post. I do hope that some people will find it useful, particularly caregivers, but it’s okay if it’s not your jam.


Reasons for avoidance besides Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA)

Image description: Infographic by Autball entitled “Possible Reasons Why You/Your Person Can’t Just Do The Thing (AKA: Not Everything is PDA!)”


Black text in white boxes on a green to blue background. Boxes read:


Inertia - It’s too hard to change states/direction right now;

Planning Difficulties - I can’t wrap my brain around how to go about it;

Overwhelm/Burnout - That’s more than I can handle right now;

Fear/Anxiety - I’m scared of that thing/what might happen if I do the thing;

Feeling Unworthy - I don’t deserve the good that will come from doing that thing;

Sensory Sensitivity - That input would be distressing;

Sensory Undersensitivity - I need more input than that;

PDA - It doesn’t feel like my idea (anymore);

Task Initiation Troubles - It’s not interesting or urgent enough to ignite me;

Hyperfocus - Sorry, did you say something?;

Rejection Sensitivity - That request made me feel like you hate me;

Defiance - I’ve been over-controlled to the point of rebellion;

Doesn’t Make Sense - I don’t get why that’s even important;

Physical Pain/Illness - I’m too tired/in too much pain;

Apraxia/Disinhibition - My body doesn’t always listen to me;

Memory Issues - I keep forgetting about the thing;

Lack of Understanding - I really don’t know what’s expected of me here;

Lack of Capability - I can’t even/don’t even know how to do that (yet);

Developmental Stage - I’m actually supposed to resist everything right now;

Moral Code - That goes against my personal values;

Shame - I just can’t face the thing.


White text at the bottom reads, “Don’t Assume. Always Investigate.”

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