Rethinking Demand Avoidance

PDA is characterised by the obsessive resistance to the ordinary demands of everyday life, and/or an anxiety driven need to remain in control. However, I think the condition is best viewed as the individual’s refusal to relinquish their freedom under any circumstances. Freedom is the PDAer’s lifeforce; their most vital nutrient. Control becomes the method by which the PDAer restores freedom, should it ever become dislodged by someone or something. But isn’t it curious how freedom - the lifeforce to which the PDAer has an undying maternal attachment - is not securely fitted within the PDAer? Freedom is forever slipping out of the PDAer’s slender grasp, and despite the frequency of this happening, the grasp is never strengthened.

Let me be clear: I am not proposing that the PDAer is the only type of person that benefits from total freedom; this is demonstrably untrue, as everyone does. What I am saying is that the PDAer is allergic to the absence of freedom.

When the PDA diagnosis (or label) is parsed, we can see how it is applicable and helpful within a certain context; a context that is all-pervasive to the PDAer. In other words, the diagnosis becomes applicable when the PDAer cannot escape that by which they are beleaguered; everyday life. The PDAer requires total freedom in order to function, and yet often finds him or herself surrounded by potential threats to their level of freedom. The PDAer is expected to attend school - a meaningless concept to the PDAer, as school implies that learning begins NOW. The PDAer is required to say thank you; which, to the PDAer, is nothing but a provisional linguistic symbol of gratitude. Gratitude is cultivated following the acknowledgment of that for which one is appreciative, and then ‘thank you’ becomes the linguistical symbol of the expression of gratitude; the PDAer knows this deep down, and will resist the utterance of ‘thank you’ so long as this is merely an empty noise unaccompanied by true gratitude. The same also applies to ‘sorry’, as without remorse, ‘sorry’ is a similarly meaningless word, and not a true apology. Therefore, PDA is the most fitting diagnosis for an individual with such a burning desire for total freedom; all of these subtle rules and expectations surround the PDAer, who is left floundering in the dark, unable to move or breathe, and labelled as ‘broken’ or ‘disabled’ when the reality is that they are simply trapped in an environment or life to which their uncompromisingly free nature does not lend itself.

‘Pathological Demand Avoidance’ does not and cannot define an entire person. The PDAer is more than just demand avoidance. The PDAer is free, and demand avoidance is but a single facet of refusing to relinquish freedom under any circumstances. I am not suggesting that the PDA diagnosis is redundant; it isn’t. I am suggesting that if the PDAer is fortunate enough to maintain a sufficient level of freedom, they will find that the need to exert control over the outside world is significantly lessened. When this happens, the PDAer no longer feels bound by their diagnosis, and no longer feels defined by sheer avoidance. The PDAer then transcends the downsides of their condition and can fully embrace their freeness.

Because the ideal world for the PDAer does not exist yet, and a life structured on total freedom is a difficult thing to obtain, PDA, in an everyday world, is the perfect diagnosis for a child who seemingly avoids and refuses and avoids and refuses again, and again. The ideal life can be obtained by the PDAer, if they have the courage to trust in where their freedom and curiosity takes them (of course a little cooperation from those around them goes a long way, too!).

There is a lot of talk within the autistic community at present about identity first. This applies to the PDAer, but not Demand Avoidance per se; the only thing the PDAer cannot be separated from is their need for total freedom. The PDAer is so free that they look disabled in the everyday world. The PDAer is not just demand avoidant; the PDAer is free and therefore avoids demands.