PDA is now classed as part of or one of the ‘Autism Spectrum Conditions’ (ASC) which is a concept that has been greatly helped by the recent changes to the National Autistic Society’s website. PDA has been moved from the co morbid section of the website and quite rightly positioned under the ASC umbrella alongside Asperger’s and Classic Autism. However, although PDA is now classed as an ASC the presentation of individuals with PDA can be different to the presentation shown by individuals with a more typical ASC presentation. This is explained by Phil Christie in the article that he wrote for the The National Autistic Society.
Individuals with PDA tend to have better imaginative play than you would typically expect to see in an individual with ASC. They also have better social and communication skills, including empathy, than you would expect to see in an individual with a typical presentation. However these skills can often appear to be lacking in depth and to be at surface level only.
Individuals may often use their empathy and social insight in order to manipulate situations and other people for the purpose of avoiding the demands or requests from others. An individual with a typical ASC presentation would not usually have sufficient social imagination or insight to be able to use strategies that involve social manipulation.
Individuals with PDA are often better at masking the true difficulties that they have in these areas, which can ultimately result in behavioural and mental health issues for the child concerned. Clinicians may seek to solve the challenging behaviour and mental health issues without looking for the true underlying cause of these issues which is an Autism Spectrum Condition called PDA. As a result of this the individuals underlying ASC may often remain undetected. This can result in many individuals with PDA falling through the ASC diagnostic net.
The PDA Society Explain the Differences Between PDA and a Typical Presentation of ASC in more depth in this informative article.
The original peer reviewed research paper which examined the differences and the similarities between individuals with a typical ASC profile and those with a PDA profile.
- O’Nions E, Viding E, Greven CU, Ronald A & Happé F (2013) Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA): exploring the behavioural profile; Autism: The International Journal of Research and Practice.
Information collated from peer reviewed published research.
Despite individuals with PDA appearing to have strengths in certain areas, that may not be seen in other individuals with a more typical presentation of ASC, it is important that this is not interpreted as being a mild autism presentation. The mix of ‘Autistic Like Traits’ and extreme demand avoidance combine to make PDA possibly the most complex presentation to manage and can also greatly affect the individuals mental health and emotional well-being.
This train of thought of how some individual with Asperger’s, like those with PDA, can often be classed as having mild autism and how misleading this can be is perfectly summed up by Dr Luke Beardon.
Therefore it increasingly important that any professional working with or assessing your child is aware of the differences between a typical ASC presentation and the PDA presentation. Individuals with PDA do present with a similar amount of ‘Autistic Like Traits’ as others on the spectrum. But these traits may go unnoticed if the professional concerned is fixed on the traditional ‘male’ profile of Autism / Asperger’s.