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What is Pathological Demand Avoidance?

Updated: Jun 6

Child in solitary play

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a pattern of behavior that interferes with a child’s ability to complete daily activities. PDA is most commonly seen in children diagnosed with autism, though it is sometimes present in children who are not. We might suspect PDA when it seems like a child has the knowledge to do something, but only does so “on their terms.”

Avoidance can look like many things: making excuses, creating distractions, focusing on something else, avoidance, or even having a meltdown. It’s important to remember that the P of PDA means pathological- the child isn’t simply choosing not to listen. Rather, they are neurologically prone to look for ways to avoid activities that may become frustrating because they feel too hard.

The best way to work with a child whom you know has PDA is to find out what really motivates them. Since kids with PDA likely won’t follow through with activities that other people request, but rather of their own motivation, consequences or warnings won’t work as well as using activities that they really enjoy.

Here are some strategies to use with a child experiencing PDA:

  • Instead of praising the child directly… praise another person (e.g., parent, peer model, etc.) to encourage them to behave in the same way.

  • Instead of setting too high or too low demands… match the demands of a task to their level.

  • Instead of solving problems for the child… build autonomy and model solution-finding together.

For more information, ask your Speech-Language Pathologist or Occupational Therapist at your next visit!

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