Pathological demand avoidance
Pathological demand avoidance (PDA) is a proposed sub-type of autism spectrum disorder. Characteristics ascribed to the condition include greater refusal to do what is asked of the person, even to activities the person would normally like. It is not recognized by either the DSM-5 or the ICD-10 and is unlikely to be separated out now that the umbrella diagnosis of ASD has been adopted.
In 2011, it was suggested that these symptoms could represent the condition oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Elizabeth O'Nions and others, argue that unlike ASD, “children with PDA are said to use socially manipulative avoidance strategies”; and unlike ODD, they “resort to extreme, embarrassing or age-inappropriate behaviour”.
Pathological demand avoidance is not recognized by the DSM-5 or ICD-10, the two main classification systems for mental disorders. To be recognized a sufficient amount of consensus and clinical history needs to be present, and as a newly proposed condition, PDA had not met the standard of evidence required at the time of recent revisions. However, DSM-5 also moved from sub-type classification to the use of ‘Autistic Spectrum Disorder’ which allows for the behavioural traits of different profiles to be described.
In 2011 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence commented on the fact that PDA has been proposed as part of the autism spectrum but did not include further discussion within the guideline. NICE guidance also expects an ‘ASD’ diagnosis be accompanied by a diagnostic assessment providing a profile of key strengths and difficulties. Demand Avoidance is listed as a ‘sign or symptom of ASD’ (Appendix 3).
In response to the recent research Christopher Gillberg wrote a commentary article which stated “Experienced clinicians throughout child psychiatry, child neurology and paediatrics testify to its existence and the very major problems encountered when it comes to intervention and treatment.”
Proposed diagnostic criteria
As of 2014 there are no recognized diagnostic criteria. Proposed criteria by Newson include:
- Passive early history in the first year, avoiding ordinary demands and missing milestones
- Continuing to avoid demands, panic attacks if demands are escalated
- Surface sociability, but apparent lack of sense of social identity
- Lability of mood and impulsive
- Comfortable in role play and pretending
- Language delay, seemingly the result of passivity, often caught up quickly
- Obsessive behavior
- Neurological signs (awkwardness, similar to autism spectrum disorders)
The underlying cause for this avoidance is said to be a high level of anxiety, usually from expectations of demands being placed on children, which can lead to a feeling of not being in control of a situation. Children with PDA feel threatened when they are not in control of their environment and their actions, which triggers the fight, flight or freeze response.
Newson first began to look at PDA as a specific syndrome in the 1980s when certain children referred to the Child Development Clinic at the University of Nottingham appeared to display and share many of the same characteristics. These children had often been referred because they seemed to show many autistic traits but were not typical in their presentation like those with classical autism or Asperger's syndrome. They had often been labelled as 'atypical autism' or Persistent Development Disorder- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Both of these terms were felt by parents to be unhelpful.
In 1997, the PDA Society was established in the UK by parents of children with a PDA profile of autism. It became a registered charity in January 2016.
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- Elizabeth N, Phil C, Judith G, Essi V, Francesca H (July 2014). "Development of the 'Extreme Demand Avoidance Questionnaire' (EDA-Q): preliminary observations on a trait measure for Pathological Demand Avoidance". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 55 (7): 758–768. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12149.
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- Feinstein, Adam (2010). A History of Autism: Conversations with the Pioneers. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-4051-8654-4.
- Gillberg, Christopher (2014-07-01). "Commentary: PDA – public display of affection or pathological demand avoidance? – reflections on O'Nions et al. (2014)". Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 55 (7): 769–770. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12275. ISSN 1469-7610. PMID 24890260.
- "PDA Society • Part of the Autism Spectrum".
- Longo, Sharon (November 19, 2019). "Pathological Demand Avoidance and Autism". Autism Parenting Magazine. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
- Dundon, Raelene. The Parents’ Guide to Managing Anxiety in Children with Autism. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. p. 114. ISBN 9781785926570.
- Christie, Phil (February 20, 2014). "Elizabeth Newson obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved December 13, 2020.
- "About the PDA Society". PDA Society. Retrieved December 13, 2020.