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  • Writer's pictureKelly Tennant

The PDA Profile of Autism

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

PDA, sometimes still called Pathological Demand Avoidance but moving towards the more neurodiversity-affirming Pervasive Demand Avoidance or the even better Persistent Drive for Autonomy, is thought to be a common sub-type or profile of autism. PDAers find external demands to be incredibly stressful and as a result, we exhibit a fight, flight, freeze, or fawn response to them.

Those of us with “external” PDA are more likely to exhibit the fight or flight responses. This may look like having a meltdown, eloping, hiding, yelling, or using our voice, signs, or AAC to say no.

Those of us with “internal” PDA are more likely to exhibit the freeze or fawn responses. This may look like shutting down, avoidance, procrastination, self-sabotage, or people pleasing.

Why the multiple expansions of the PDA acronym?

With the rise of the neurodiversity-affirming movement, we’re moving away from pathologizing language referring to neurodivergent traits. For example, instead of deficits, we refer to differences to indicate that there is nothing deficient about autistic traits.

The glaring “pathological” in the original expansion of PDA thus needed to be changed to a more affirming term while recognizing that the acronym is widely used and should retain some consistency. Pervasive indicates that PDA shows up consistently across many types of demands, resulting in a variety of avoidance responses.

However, the newly termed persistent drive for autonomy really gets at what PDA is for autistics. It’s not about avoiding demands and not wanting to do things, it’s about a need to do them in a way that feels safe, controlled, with full consent, and a feeling of having a choice in the matter.

If you’re curious to learn more about PDA, I'll point you in the direction of one of my favourite neurodiversity-affirming specialists: Kristy Forbes is an Australian AuDHDer and PDA expert who hosts the wonderful podcast Intune Pathways. Check out more of her resources here: Kristy Forbes - Autism & Neurodiversity Support Specialist.

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