PDA stands for Pathological Demand Avoidance, a neurotype that makes it hard to comply with ordinary everyday demands.
Je’anna Clements reframes this as “Perceived Demand Anxiety” because the core dynamic of PDA is that when something is Perceived as a Demand, even if other people don’t intend as such and can’t see how it can be interpreted that way, Anxiety escalates, making it increasingly difficult to comply.
This can mean that even slight interference with Autonomous Motivation, even implied pressure to learn something, can make it impossible for the PDAer to tackle the learning task. This makes mainstream education approaches an extremely bad fit. Self-Directed Education is a blessing for any child, but probably an absolute necessity for PDA kids.
Appropriate support for PDAers in all life circumstances including SDE settings is crucially important – and seldom achieved without significant effort to understand how PDA actually works.
PDAers are generally very kind, considerate, playful, creative, deeply just and generous people, blessing us with the complex depth of insight necessary to create truly non-coercive spaces and practices. They can catalyse deep personal growth for those who engage them, and bring about profound healing in family relationships. They can also act as litmus-tests to help SDE facilitators and facilities reach best practice standards.
However, the price of this gift is a hyper-sensitivity to particular kinds of stress that put them into fight/flight/freeze states in circumstances that most other people don’t even see as stressful whatsoever. The anxiety, vulnerability, panic and pain of the PDAer often only become visible once effective support begins. The tragedy that unfolds as a result, is that from the outside, PDA can just look like mood swings, bossiness, entitled brattiness, orneriness and extreme willful obstinacy, with bouts of ‘unpredictable’ explosive, extreme or even violent behaviour. For these reasons PDAers (and their parents) are almost always misunderstood, judged, and inappropriately treated to the point of trauma, even in SDE spaces. The more that the PDAer is mishandled, the more things escalate and the worse things get.
Trauma-informed practices and Horizontal Communication approaches can help significantly, but only a clear understanding of PDA specifically, brings the understanding that is necessary for support to be effective and for experience and behaviour to become manageable for all concerned.
If you do not have access to an official diagnosis but believe that you may be dealing with PDA, it can be useful to first try a simple strategy for dealing with Enneagram Type 8. “When you disagree, make deals. I know that this is also counter-intuitive, but this is what feels fair to an 8. When the 8 is adamant about his or her truth about what is or isn’t fair, don’t back away, don’t back down and don’t assert dominance. It will only trigger a huge power struggle that you can never win. Instead, make a deal. Say something like: “Ok, you win this time, next time it is my turn.” Ask him or her to give his or her word. Then whatever you do keep your word. The 8 will then feel compelled to keep his or her word and will reluctantly comply when you remind him or her of the deal the two of you made. And never back away from this, ever.
Begin with little deals, then the bigger deals as the 8 grows up. Teach that a true leader has power because they keep their word.” Full article by Katherine Fauvre here
Assuming that you manage to be consistent with this strategy, it might work briefly for a PDAer, but if it continues to work as time goes by, then not only will you have solved your problem, you will also have the insight that it’s unlikely actually PDA, because while PDA might be able to do this sometimes, it will increasingly become a pressure to do it because now it’s the respected routine thing. So for type 8 this will get easier and smoother, for PDA it will increasingly stop working. At that point Je’anna recommends that you read up previous posts and watch live hangouts posted on Harry Thompson’s Facebook page, join a Facebook support group (there are several, with different feels, so you may want to audition a few), and consider doing a course with Harry, Laura Kerby of PAST, or if you are an SDE parent or facilitator, with Je’anna herself. Je’anna’s support group for SDE/PDA is coming soon. Please fill in the contact page on this site or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for updates.
Here is an introductory video on Supporting PDAers in Self-Directed Education