The key to making your home PDA-friendly is to understand about different kinds of demands. Lessening and/or eliminating demands – and working collaboratively with your child – will help them to feel more comfortable, reduce their anxiety and can improve family life for the better.
One of the greatest challenges the parent of a PDA child faces is trying to ensure their child accomplishes everyday tasks which are important for their own health such as eating, drinking, personal hygiene and going to school. These everyday tasks are in effect ‘demands’, but most neurotypical people don’t think of them that way. It’s just stuff we all need to do. Some of it’s boring, and some of it we might enjoy. But most of the time we don’t think twice, we just do it because we have to, and we’re used to that.
Now, imagine if I forced you to sign all your bank accounts over to me, give me custody of your children and the keys to your car. I gave you no choice in the matter, and I started doing it even though you had asked me not to. You would probably be anxious and confused at first, then frightened maybe? Then at some point anger would come, righteous anger. You did not sanction this! This is your whole life I am taking control of. All of these huge feelings might be too much for you to deal with and you might end up screaming, shouting and even hitting out. It would feel like a nightmare, that much is for sure.
Ok, you might be thinking come on, that’s an extreme comparison for asking someone to clean their teeth. But let me tell you, when you ask a PDA child to do something which their brain perceives as a demand, that can be EXACTLY how they feel. They crave autonomy; they need to be in control of their own lives. It’s not a choice or stubbornness. And how do we know this? How do we know that they are not just being awkward, stubborn or (my least favourite word) naughty?
Because a PDA child will reject even their OWN demands. They may be unable to do something that they may actually WANT to do if they perceive it as a demand. Imagine, you really want to meet your friends at the pub because it will be fun and you’re lonely, but you feel the pressure of your own expectation weighing hard on you. It makes you feel anxious and nervous. You know you want to go and you should go, but somehow you can’t. It’s too hard. You panic. You cannot comply.
That’s a small insight as to why PDA can be a crushing disability making everyday life for many children and adults incredibly hard to navigate.
These are quite obvious and typically form part of everyday life: ‘Come on, it’s time to get up and get ready for school. Clean your teeth and then come down for breakfast, and HURRY UP!’
Subtle or indirect
‘Well done! That’s brilliant!’ Receiving praise often causes anxiety for PDAers, as it implies that a demand has been complied with, and because of this may they experience feelings of loss of control. As too are open questions aimed at the individual to elicit a response, such as ‘what do you think we should do next?’ or ‘shall we choose this one, or that one?’ – both imply an answer must be given and a demand complied with.
These hidden demands are everywhere, many of which are routed in traditional ‘good manners’. For example, the expectation to say please and thank you, replying when someone asks you a question, and having to make a choice – all of which can cause huge anxiety.
There are also demands that the PDAer may impose upon themselves, such as the need to use the toilet, feeling hungry and therefore needing to eat, and the expectation that they should be sociable with their peers.