How to Discipline a Child with PDA

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a behavioral characteristic seen in individuals on the autism spectrum. It’s characterized by avoidance of everyday demands and expectations, often accompanied by high levels of anxiety. If you’re a parent or caregiver of a child with PDA, you may often find yourself in battles, struggling to manage their behavior. However, with the right strategies and tools, you can effectively discipline and guide your child through their daily routines.

Understanding PDA

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a behavioral profile associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is characterized by an individual’s overwhelming need to resist or avoid demands, leading to extreme levels of anxiety and a loss of control. This resistance can manifest in various ways, such as making excuses, distracting, procrastinating, or physically incapacitating themselves to avoid demands.

Children with PDA often resist ordinary demands such as brushing teeth or packing school bags. They may also exhibit extreme mood swings and unpredictable behavior. They may appear sociable but lack a deeper understanding of social interactions and responsibility. Role play and pretending are common for children with PDA, sometimes becoming obsessional. Obsessive behavior in individuals with PDA often focuses on other people.

Key Characteristics of PDA

The core characteristics of PDA include:

  1. Resistance and Avoidance of Everyday Demands: This includes those that are perceived as trivial or routine.
  2. Overwhelming Need to be in Control: Individuals with PDA have a strong need to avoid being controlled by others.
  3. Use of Social Strategies for Avoidance: They may use social strategies as part of their avoidance tactics.
  4. Surface Sociability: Despite difficulties with social interaction and understanding, individuals with PDA often display surface social communication abilities.
  5. Obsessive Behavior: This behavior is often focused on other people or can be focused on performance demands due to acute anxiety.
  6. Comfort in Role Play and Pretend: Individuals with PDA often appear comfortable in role play and pretend, sometimes to an extreme extent.

Resources for Further Learning

Understanding PDA is crucial for parents, caregivers, and educators to effectively support individuals with this condition. Here are some resources for further learning:

  1. Provides information and support strategies for adults, parents, carers, and professionals on Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA).
  2. The ACT Group: Offers insights into the key characteristics associated with PDA and suggestions to increase compliance and engagement.
  3. Child Mind Institute: Provides a comprehensive article on PDA in kids, including strategies to work with kids with PDA behaviors.
  4. Teachwire: Offers insights into recognizing PDA symptoms and providing effective support and strategies.
  5. Neurodivergent Insights: Provides a detailed explanation of the core characteristics of PDA.
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Remember, every individual with PDA is unique, and their experiences may vary. It’s essential to approach each case with empathy, understanding, and flexibility.

Strategies for Disciplining a Child with PDA

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) presents unique challenges for parents and caregivers. Traditional discipline strategies often prove ineffective, leading to frustration and confusion. However, by understanding the nature of PDA and adopting tailored strategies, you can create a more harmonious and supportive environment for your child. Here are some practical examples of how to implement these strategies:

1. Embrace a Collaborative Approach

Children with PDA often struggle with the traditional parent-child power dynamic. Instead, they respond better to a collaborative approach that minimizes the perception of demands.

Example: Instead of telling your child, “It’s time to do your homework,” you could say, “I see you’re busy with your game. How about we figure out a good time to do your homework together? Would after dinner work for you?”

2. Use Indirect Language

Direct demands can trigger anxiety in children with PDA. Phrasing your requests as suggestions or choices can help alleviate this anxiety.

Example: Instead of saying, “Put on your shoes, we need to leave,” try, “We’ll be leaving soon. Do you want to wear your red shoes or your blue ones?”

3. Prioritize and Reduce Demands

Being mindful of the demands you place on your child, even those that may seem minor, can help reduce their anxiety. Prioritize essential tasks and consider your child’s capacity to handle demands.

Example: If your child has had a particularly demanding day at school, you might choose to let them relax when they get home instead of insisting they do their chores immediately.

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4. Identify and Avoid Triggers

Understanding your child’s triggers can help you plan activities and routines to minimize anxiety and resistance.

Example: If your child becomes anxious when they have multiple tasks to complete, you could break down tasks into smaller, manageable parts and allow breaks in between.

5. Frame Demands as Problems to Solve

Children with PDA often respond better to problem-solving scenarios than direct demands.

Example: Instead of saying, “Please set the table,” you could say, “I’m trying to figure out how to get the table ready for dinner. Can you help me solve this problem?”

6. Be Flexible and Adaptive

The ability to cope with demands can vary day by day for individuals with PDA. Being flexible and adaptive to your child’s needs is crucial.

Example: If your child is having a difficult day and is resisting their usual bedtime routine, you might allow them to read a book in bed for a little while longer before turning out the lights.


Disciplining a child with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is indeed not a straightforward task. It’s a journey that requires patience, understanding, and a systematic approach. The challenges associated with PDA can often feel overwhelming, but remember, you are not alone in this journey. There are numerous resources and support groups available to help you navigate this path.

The strategies discussed in this article, such as embracing a collaborative approach, using indirect language, prioritizing and reducing demands, identifying and avoiding triggers, framing demands as problems to solve, and being flexible and adaptive, are not one-size-fits-all solutions. They are tools that you can adapt and modify to fit your child’s unique needs and circumstances.

Remember, the goal is not to ‘fix’ your child but to understand them better and to create an environment where they can thrive. It’s about building a relationship with your child that is based on trust, respect, and mutual understanding. It’s about acknowledging their struggles and celebrating their strengths.

While the journey may be challenging, it’s important to remember the extraordinary children at the heart of it. Children with PDA have a unique perspective on the world, and with the right support, they can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Finally, it’s crucial to take care of yourself too. Parenting a child with PDA can be demanding, and self-care is essential. Reach out for support when you need it, and remember to celebrate your successes, no matter how small they may seem.

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Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for his studies of ageing, genetics and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics NAS of Ukraine. His scientific researches are printed by the most reputable international magazines. Some of his works are: Differences in the gut Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio across age groups in healthy Ukrainian population []; Mating status affects Drosophila lifespan, metabolism and antioxidant system [Science Direct]; Anise Hyssop Agastache foeniculum Increases Lifespan, Stress Resistance, and Metabolism by Affecting Free Radical Processes in Drosophila [Frontiersin].
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