Pathological avoidance is distinct from autistic avoidance

So many professionals, "experts" other autistics and even people in the PDA community do not understand this distinction and it is important. There is a term "autistic demand avoidance" and many people believe PDA is just that.

It is Not.

So you can see how people think it is the same when PDA is described often as "someone who avoids the demands of everyday life".

Avoidance is distinct

Equally, when any autistic person is in a constantly high state of anxiety, they can become avoidant of doing anything at all. This extreme avoidance is consistent with autistic shut down, or burn out depending on the circumstances. This is not pathological avoidance. Autistic people are triggered by the thought of doing something that brings them anxiety (socialising, going somewhere new etc), and they avoid it at all costs. This is autistic demand avoidance, and it is very much like normal, typical demand avoidance found in all humans, but more frequent, more extreme and potentially surrounding more things. This is still not pathological.

Pathological, in this case means, significantly extreme to be considered "hard-wired" and significantly different from the norm so as to be problematic. Avoiding things you are afraid of is normal, even if the anxiety is to an extreme level. Here is how pathological avoidance is different.

PDAers are triggered by the demand itself. The nature of this neurotype is significantly different from other autism. PDAers are driven by a pervasive and intense need for autonomy. Any breech of autonomy is perceived as a serious threat, causing anxiety, avoidance and threat response. Demands, requests, reminders, expectations and anything that removes self-direction and personal freedom triggers avoidance.

Normal demand avoidance =
Avoidance of things we are afraid of (anxiety), don't want to do (no motivation), or feel we cannot manage (executive function).
Autistic demand avoidance =
Normal avoidance coupled with unusually high and varied anxiety and executive function difficulty. The higher level of anxiety can make avoidance extreme.
Pathological demand avoidance =
Avoidance of real and perceived demand or imposed control, regardless of the content of the demand or activity.
PDAers, as autistics, do experience autistic avoidance in addition to pathological demand avoidance.

Why does it matter?

It matters because when people misunderstand the driver behind behaviour and the why of avoidance, they cannot properly support the person. It matters because it is an important distinction. It matters because this neurotype needs to be better understood. It matters because we are not trying to pathologise autistic demand avoidance, or detract from its importance.

Written by Emily Wilding

0 thoughts on “Pathological avoidance is distinct from autistic avoidance”

  1. Hi Emily,
    This so describes my son (age 5) who has autism. I’d didn’t realize this was something that was diagnosed. Do you have tips on how to deal with this?

  2. My 11yr old shows lots of.the PDA identifiers am trying to.find out more about itnas they dont diagnose it.in east sussex

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