Today host Danielle Sullivan discusses their experience parenting PDA children. Danielle has a child with pathological demand avoidance/ pervasive demand for autonomy and has unique experience as an adult autistic PDA-er themselves. Danielle describes what PDA is, why these behaviors show up in certain autistic folks, and gives some examples of parenting PDA for her child in everyday life.
Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 61 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
Thank you to our Patrons for funding this podcast. Find out more and pledge today at patreon.com/neurodiverging.
Our sincere thanks to: Jacqueline, Klara, RW Painter, Galactic Fay, Theresa, Charley, Megan, Cee, Brianne, Estevanny, Katharine, Shilo, Angel, Valerie, MrToDubble, Randy, Joseph, Emma, and all of our other patrons.
- Donate to this podcast.
- Join us on 1/20 for our webinar, Practical Strategies for Working with a Resistant Child. Learn more and register here.
- Learn more about our 6 week collaborative parenting group program, starting January 30th: https://www.neurodiverging.com/neurodivergent-collaborative-parenting-class-group-coaching-program/
- Listen to my interview with Amanda Diekman about her low-demand parenting approach for PDA: https://www.neurodiverging.com/raising-a-pda-child-with-low-demand-parenting-with-amanda-diekman/
- Kristy Forbes is an autistic support specialist for neurodivergent people and their families and professionals, as well as an adult PDA-er: https://www.kristyforbes.com.au
- The PDA Society offers information, support and training for PDA: https://www.pdasociety.org.uk/
Neurodiverging is dedicated to helping neurodiverse folk find the resources we need to live better lives as individuals, and to further disability awareness and social justice efforts to improve all our lives as part of the larger, world community. If you’re interested in learning more, you can:
- Click the subscribe button to make sure you are notified when there’s a new episode!
- Take a look around at previous podcast episode transcripts and blog posts here on neurodiverging.com. Looking for something specific or have a question? Send us an email at email@example.com.
- Check us out on Patreon to support this podcast and blog!
Transcript of Episode 61: PDA Day-to-Day: Parenting PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance/ Pervasive Demand for Autonomy)
Danielle Sullivan: Thanks for coming back to the Neurodiverging Podcast! My name is Danielle Sullivan and I am your host.
Today I am here by my lonesome to talk with you about parenting a PDA child and what that’s been like for me through a couple of recent stories of my daily life, and also what it’s like as an adult who’s autistic who was a PDA kiddo before PDA was a thing.
If you’re not familiar with the term, PDA stands for pathological demand avoidance. It’s interpreted a couple different ways, but frankly I would interpret it as a profile of autism, a kind of autism, a way that autism shows up in certain folks. It’s kind of a constellation of different traits.
It’s also called pervasive demand for autonomy by many of us who don’t really like the pathological aspect of pathological demand avoidance. Pervasive demand for autonomy, or PDA, is this idea that we as people, we as autistic people, want to be able to control our own lives as best as we can and that we are operating out of a sense of significant anxiety and insecurity in some places in our lives. In order to make ourselves feel more in control and more safe and more confident in our ability to live well, we want to take back autonomy, take back control as often as we can.
In many cases, when you have a child with a PDA profile, you end up with a kiddo who looks resistant, looks like they don’t want to work with you, looks like they don’t want to do anything you ask for, retreats a lot, argues a lot… there’s all different ways this can present. So, as a parent coach, this is something that folks come in with pretty often so I see this profile a lot, both in in children and in adults. I thought it might be helpful to talk about it more today.
Thank you, patrons!
Before I dive into this I just want to give a big thank you to my patrons over at patreon.com/neurodiverging. Those folks donate a small to a larger amount every month and all that funding goes to getting these videos edited for you, getting the audio edited, getting it transcribed and up on the website where people can access it. Writing a podcast is is not a money-maker and I really couldn’t do it without these folks. They really make it possible to offer this information and these interviews that I do with other people and it’s not just me talking to you all. So I am so grateful for our patrons and I hope you will be grateful to them too! Give them a shout out, say thanks in the comments.
If you would like to join us over at the Patreon we would love to see you. It starts at a buck a month for ad-free access to our new episodes on audio and video and you can also get lots of other perks as as you’re able to donate more. We have a Discord server, we have lots of recordings of webinars and other training materials for folks, we really try to try to make it fun. So I hope you’ll consider joining us at patreon.com/neurodiverging or of course just go check out the website at neurodiverging.com which is free for all and has a lot of articles, transcripts, other information there for you to access. Thanks to my patrons for making this possible. Let’s dig into this topic a little more.
Introduction to Parenting PDA
So, as I said, PDA stands for pathological demand avoidance or pervasive demand for autonomy. If you have been here for a while, you may remember I did an interview with Amanda Diekman, I don’t know, 10 or 15 episodes back. Amanda is a parent who I believe also identifies with the PDA profile though I could be wrong there but is autistic and has PDA kiddos, and we talked a lot in that episode about her approaches to having a kiddo with pathological demand avoidance or pervasive demand for autonomy. (I’ll just say PDA from now on.)
Her approach has been to lower demands significantly, and we talked a lot about that through the episode. That approach works really well for a lot of folks, but it’s a lot of work. What I noticed when I was working with Amanda on that episode – her approach is fantastic it works for so many families and so I really encourage folks to go check [her] out, she has a great Instagram, her own Patreon community, lots of things going on, so if you’re struggling with this kind of thing, obviously I’m happy to to help as I have coaching slots available, but also Amanda’s available, Kristy Forbes out of Australia is a great advocate for PDA autistic adults and kids, there’s lots of resources for PDA.
I also will just give a shout out right up front to the PDA Society out of the UK they have a great website. You can Google it, just google PDA Society it’ll pop up. They have downloads, like scripts to offer educators, so many great things. It’s a place I send parents a lot for training on PDA. So those right off the bat, even if you don’t listen to me anymore for the rest of this podcast, if you turn it off right now, those are the places I would go check if any of this sounds familiar to you.
So let me just start out by saying: PDA is (we think) a profile of autism, right. I’ve talked before about how we’re really in the infancy of autism research, and so now we lump a lot of things together under this umbrella of autism spectrum disorder. There’s a ton of traits associated with autism spectrum disorder and some folks display certain of those traits and some folks display others. Some folks have a mix obviously. There’s a lot of degrees, right, where some people need more support in some areas and some people need more support in other areas.
What this indicates to researchers and to me frankly is that we probably are looking at several autisms, the same way that we have several ADHDs: we have inattentive, we have hyperactive and we have combined ADHD. There are probably different types of autism that currently are just lumped together, and that as we differentiate between and among different types, we’ll have different approaches and supports and treatment options for people dealing with different conditions related to autism.
So for me, PDA is probably, based on the research I’ve seen and the folks I’ve worked with, a subtype of autism, a specific profile of autism. Obviously, PDA people are all different. We all have different variations of a set of core traits, but it’s a constellation of traits that’s pretty similar from person to person.
What you see with children with PDA is a resistance to complying with your requests, is the most basic way I can put it. You ask them to brush their teeth and they will not do it. They have a tantrum, they yell, they run away. You ask them to pick up their stuff and they pick a fight with you about something unrelated, or they throw things. There’s different ways that kids will respond.
And there’s also like kids who process more internally and kids who process externally, right. So, there is the kiddo who’s an external processor who will yell and scream and throw and kick, and then there’s the kid who’s an internal processor who will kind of just sit there and freeze and maybe stare you down or cry, but not like really be aggressive or externalize any of those emotions.
The thing with PDA that makes it different than a kiddo who’s just sort of “non-compliant” … and again, I think all kids are trying their best frankly. Kids with neurodivergence are dealing with significant trauma just by living in a world that is not appropriate for them. Their environment is not sensory friendly. Requests are not given in a way that we always understand. Children have very little control over their own lives in most cases. And so it makes sense to me that lots of children would say No when you ask them to do something.
But the thing with PDA that is different, is that any request that comes from outside of the child’s own heart, body, and soul — any request, even if it’s something they want to do — if they don’t make the determination to do it, they won’t do it. Any demand from outside of them, even if it’s something they want to do, they actually can’t, because they feel like they’d be giving in. They’d be giving you back control.
So as an example, if my child wants to have a cookie, and I say, “Eat the cookie.” Now, if she eats the cookie, she is giving in to something I’ve asked her to do. She feels like she’s giving up control to me. And that makes her stressed out and anxious, and then she’s so anxious that she can’t make herself eat the cookie, even though she really really really intrinsically wants the cookie. That’s a really simplistic example, but it gets more complex.
How to Parent Pervasive Demand for Autonomy
I want to tell you a story about parenting my PDA kiddo and a recent occurrence that happened, and how we handled it. As a parent coach, I don’t ever … and I hope it comes across in this podcast I don’t ever want to present as an authority on something. I have a lot of training. I’ve read a lot. I’m educated on things and I’ve worked with people, so I have experience. But I’m just one person, I parent the way I parent, and different people have different approaches. I think that it’s really important to honor and to value [that] different people are parenting for different reasons.
But I also feel like sometimes when you call yourself a parent coach, people automatically assume like, “Oh, that means they’re like the best parent, they’re the best at parenting!” and you know, I think I’m a good parent. I’m not going to toot my own horn too much, but I also want you all to know I guess that I’m struggling to parent the same way that a lot of you are struggling to parent.
If you’re here and you’re listening to this because you have kiddos who fit under that PDA umbrella, or you think you do, if you have kiddos who are demand avoidant, who don’t seem to want to collaborate with you, who do seem to want to collaborate with you but are struggling to do so — I want you to know you’re not alone. I just want you to know that no one’s perfect. This stuff is hard. This is hard. So if you’re a PDA adult, if you have a PDA kiddo, if both of those things are the case, I just want you to know you’re not alone in this.
Also, if you’re not PDA and you don’t have PDA kids, I’m going to tell you the story in an effort to show you that even for someone who is a kind of, I’ll just say, a highly trained parent, let’s go with that: this is really hard for me too. I want to encourage you that if you know someone who has a kiddo who is struggling or if you know a parent who is struggling to parent their child, and it’s difficult for whatever reason, please give them as much support and open curiosity as you possibly can.
Parenting kiddos with these kinds of issues is not easy. It is not straightforward. You cannot parent the way that the parenting books tell you to parent and have good success. You have to parent completely differently, and it’s a steep learning curve and we all mess up in the beginning because we’re trained to parent a certain way. But if you parent traditionally with a PDA kiddo, you will not engender trust in them. If you set firm boundaries, if you hold those boundaries no matter what, if you use rewards and discipline punishment systems, you are setting up higher anxiety levels for your kiddo.
So that means when you have a parent who is dealing with PDA kiddo and you see them like “being pushovers,” not holding firm boundaries, you see them adjusting based on kiddo’s demands, and you think the parent’s giving in … that’s not what’s happening.
It’s that the traditional way of even positive discipline is not going to be successful for a PDA family. It’s going to be the opposite of successful. It’s going to cause more concern and stress.
I’m going to tell you the story about what happened on Monday. Just so you know, my kids are seven and nine. They’re both probably autistic and ADHD. We have different diagnoses for either, but you know that diagnoses are sometimes kind of a mess, so I won’t get into that right now. My youngest has PDA traits, and we parent her in a PDA style and that has been the most successful for us.
So on Monday, they had been inside due to weather and cancellations and lots of other things. They had been basically inside watching TV for about four or five days. As a parent who thinks that, you know, movement and exercise and stuff are important, but also understands the stress of sensory overwhelm, five days is about my limit. Like, we need to get you out of the door. We need you to interact with other people who are not me and your dad and your siblings. We need you to move your body. We need you to look at something else.
We all discussed it together, me and my two kiddos, and I said basically in the morning: “I would like us to go do something today. I would like us to have the goals of moving our bodies and looking at something that’s not a screen for a couple of hours. I am very open about what we can do. Some ideas I have are: we can go to the park, any park, you can choose. We can go to a playground. We can go to the museum. We can go to a jump place like a trampoline park. We can go get ice cream. We can do whatever. I just want us to go somewhere else. So, can you guys talk about it together and think about if there’s something you can agree on that you would both like to do? Do you want me to sit here with you and we all discuss it together or do you two want to pick?”
And so they decided they wanted to pick, so I kind of went away and did my thing and came back and they had decided together that they would want to go to the trampoline park. So we talked about what’s our schedule like today, what do we want to accomplish before we go, right. They both like a plan. They like to know what to expect as best they can, so we sat down and we talked together. My seven-year-old wanted to play Slitherio and do some Fall Guys and my older one wanted to do some Minecraft and watch a couple of videos on YouTube, and then we need to have lunch, and then we’re gonna be ready to go.
Okay, so we had this great plan. Now my youngest who is the PDA profile kiddo … sometimes I think she’s going to be fine to do something and then gets overwhelmed kind of at the last minute and can’t handle it, and we want to honor that and that feeling and that overwhelm and that anxiety as being true and real and her experience. But also, whenever she does that, it obviously impacts other people’s plans, and we talk a lot about how when you’re part of a family, we’re part of a team, and that your actions affect other people.
So it’s okay if you really can’t handle — something please always tell us and we want to help you with it — but also sometimes we’re not going to be able to cancel a thing. And as a parent who is parenting two kiddos, my eldest is very flexible with my youngest’s PDA and anxiety, but at the same time, every time we need to cancel something because of my youngest my oldest is disappointed, and that’s a hard way to live. That’s really challenging for them.
So today I checked in with my youngest and I said, “You know, your brother really wants to go do this trampoline park. Do you think that it’s going to be okay, or do you think that we should have a backup plan?” and she said, “No, I really want to go. It’s going to be fine. We’ll just do it,” and was real confident about it.
I was like okay. So then it’s time to get ready to go to the trampoline park. I pack all our food. I pack all our water. We talk about which stuffies we’re gonna bring. We talk about how long it’s going to take to get there. We start to get ready. My youngest, who was wearing a dress, decided that they wanted to get changed for the trampoline park into their pants and shirt, so they go upstairs to change. And we’re waiting and we’re waiting and we’re waiting and we’re waiting. And I go up and check to see what’s going on, and she’s sitting there on her bed saying, “My pants feel weird.”
Now, she has one pair of pants that she will wear. She has been wearing the same pair of pants for six months. They are these safe pants. They still fit. They’re not too small. They’re stretchy. So I said, “I hear you that the pants feel weird, but I also know that you wear these pants twice a week, and they’re fine every other time, so do you know what’s different today about the pants or about how your body feels?”
She said, “No, I don’t know, but the pants feel weird, and I don’t want to move in them.”
I said, “Okay, I think my idea is that your body just needs to get used to the pants. Do you think we could try to go downstairs in the pants, and give your body a few minutes to get used to how the pants feel?”
She said, “I want to try that, but every time I move the pants feel weird.”
And she was just stuck on the bed for like 20 minutes and I sat there with her and we talked about it. Meanwhile my son is downstairs listening and going in his little brain, “Oh no, the trampoline park’s gonna be canceled, we’re not going to be able to go,” and I could hear him trying to like do his deep breaths and stay calm, because he was really excited to go and now his sister can’t move off of her bed because her pants feel weird.
I’m just kind of gonna editorially interject here and say I know as a parent saying that, that for a lot of you listening … I mean, some of you will be like, Yeah, I know what weird pants feel like and that sucks! And some of you will be like, This is a tiny problem. Clearly she’s just making an excuse, right, or clearly something else is going on …
The thing with parenting PDA and sensory overwhelm and all these things is that she was really stressed out. She was anxious about the trampoline park. There were other things going on and I’ll tell you what we figured out it was later on in the story, but in this moment her concern about her pants feeling weird was the main thing blocking her from being able to move forward. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to the park and it wasn’t that she didn’t want her brother to have fun and it wasn’t that she wanted to, like, fake me out and make me work really hard to convince her. She certainly didn’t want to be threatened or bribed into going.
The problem was that her pants felt weird, and when you have a very sensitive nervous system, pants feeling weird can be the thing that takes up all of your energy and all of your internal space to the point that you literally can’t think past it. You certainly can’t move past it. The thing is, though, of course, that we’re a family of multiple people, and sometimes you can work your whole day around one person’s pants feeling weird, and some days you can’t.
This was a day where I was really stuck, I’ll admit it, as a parent, I was really stuck on this idea that they had to get out of the house today. That’s on me. But I also was taking on this stress about my son’s feelings and sort of struggling with the idea that he was always going to have to make sacrifices because of his sister’s anxiety.
As a parent, that’s really hard, and I’m just going to give myself grace for that, and say I don’t know that I acted my best. I certainly didn’t act my worst. Maybe there was a better way to handle this, but I really felt pulled in multiple directions between wanting the best for them, their welfare, right, for them to get exercise, for them to try new things, for them to get out of the house, for them to see other kids; my son’s welfare and his excitement and wanting to do something.
And then my daughter’s welfare in the extent of her anxiety and stress and sensory response in that moment. That’s a lot of different directions to be pulled, and I just want to say that folks parenting PDA kiddos, PDA kiddos themselves, and their siblings, the whole family are constantly pulled in three or more different directions because we are actively trying to manage a lot of different expectations, a lot of different goals, and the reality of sensory and anxiety overwhelm.
Basically what happened is that we sat on the bed for 20 minutes and I eventually was like, “You know kiddo, I hear that the pants are a struggle. I really think what’s happening is that your body needs some energy, and I wonder if we could make it down the stairs and just eat something.”
In my house, our basic rule, [and] you know the kids call me on all the time, I call their dad on it, we all call each other on it is: if you are grumpy, eat something, drink something, pee. Those are your three things.
After that, we have a couple other rules, like go look at some sun. Pet the cat. Take a nap if you want to. There are a couple things you can do, but it’s always eat, drink, pee. Those are our three things. So, I said, “Do you think you need to handle any of these things?” and she said, “Well, I could try to eat.”
We got her downstairs. It was a struggle but she made it. She sat down on the couch which is like her safe place, and I brought her some food and she ate the food, and she said, “I think the pants are a little better, but I still don’t like the way they feel. I still feel really stressed about going.”
I said, “Okay, I feel like we promised your brother, and I feel like we need to try. If we go there and you don’t like it you do not have to play but I think we agree like we made a commitment, right?”
And again, I was stuck on this idea, so I had my own stuff in there right, and I’m not trying to say this is the way you should handle it. I’m just saying this is what I did. Don’t take this as a parenting PDA coaching session, take this as, this is what Danielle did in this moment, and it may or may not have been for the better. You can decide yourself.
So I was trying to kind of set a boundary, kindly and firmly, but also with respect for what was going on for her. I said, “I understand if you don’t want to play, and I understand if you can’t be there for a long time, but I think we need to try. I think we need to go. I also think…” and this is based on her history. I said, “I think if you can get in the car, then once we’re there, you’ll be fine. I think it’s the transition from home to car that’s hard for you.”
And we’ve talked about this before, so she had that kind of script in her head, that we have lots of evidence from other things that once she’s in the car, she’s okay.
It took her an hour to get from the couch to the car. It’s like 20 feet. We took a couple of steps at a time. She kept getting overwhelmed. I tried to sort of help her by putting her stuff in the car first so she had like a motivation to get to the car, like, “Your stuffies are in the car! They’re waiting for you!” You do want to try to make things fun and gamified, because the more pressure you put on the situation, the more stressful it is, the more anxious the PDA kiddo gets or the PDA person gets.
You want to take it seriously, but it’s also like, as a parent, it was like, ‘Well, let’s make fun of the cat! Let’s walk silly! Let’s whatever…” Even with all that stuff, it took an hour to get to the car. She could not put her shoes on. She said it was too overwhelming. But, we got in the car. We brought her shoes with us. She was dressed in her pants. We brought her stuffies. I brought so much food and water.
We drive over there and before we go into the trampoline park, there was a coffee place right there. I just said, like, “That was so much energy to get out to the car. I think I would really like a coffee. Would it be okay if we stopped at the coffee place?” They both said, “Sure, that’s fine.”
My girl was able to put her shoes on. We tied them together. We went into the coffee place. That was fine. I got them both like croissants. That was fine. I got my coffee. That was fine. We walk into the trampoline park which is right next to the coffee store, and we pay, and we get the socks – you know those little grippy socks they have.
So if you’ve never been to a trampoline park, they’re basically socks, but they have little like plastic on the bottom. It’s so that when you’re jumping on the trampolines, your feet don’t go out from under you, and you fall in a way that’s gonna potentially hurt you. Some trampoline parks don’t care and some trampoline parks require that you have them, and this is one.
I had asked her about it before and she said it would be fine, but of course her brother puts on the socks and goes and runs out and is playing, and my daughter puts the socks on and says, “Oh, they feel really bad. I don’t think I can handle this.”
At this point you guys, I’m not trying to make excuses, but just to say, I was so toast. I had been actively co-regulating with her at this point for like two hours without a break. I had used so much energy trying to keep things light, like just trying to balance the humor and lightness aspect and the gamification of parenting a kiddo like this, and also honoring trying to hold space for her and her feelings.
Of course it’s different when it’s your own kid than like when I work with coaching clients or whatever. Obviously, with coaching clients I’m doing the same thing, but there is a difference in the kind of empathy and strength of emotion I feel with my own kids than with other people. I was just wiped.
Again, I really think I did a good job maintaining my chill but I said, “You know kiddo, I’m really sorry that your body is feeling this way today, so if you don’t want to play, that’s fine, you absolutely do not have to. You can sit here with me. We can have snacks. We can talk. We don’t have to talk. You can do whatever you choose, but I think we have to give my son the time to play.”
And she said, “I’m really upset because I want to play, but I don’t know how to handle the socks,” and she started crying. And I was so tired I started crying, and then she saw that I was crying and started crying more, and then I was like, “Oh no, stop crying,” but I couldn’t because I had started. I was so wiped out that I wasn’t… my emotional regulation was just shot.
I maintain that it’s fine to cry in front of your kids. You’re a person. You’re allowed to have feelings in front of them. I would rather cry in front of my child than like yell or be angry in their direction unreasonably or something like that.
I just kind of said, you know, “I feel very sad that you are having such a hard day.” I really tried to make it clear that it wasn’t like she was doing something wrong and I was ashamed or angry or something, but that it was just hard, right, and I’m allowed to feel that it’s hard too. And I said, “One thing I think that we could choose to try is…”
…and you can hear me modulating my language for a PDA kiddo because the thing with parenting a PDA kiddo is you can’t make demands. You cannot tell them what to do. It will never work. It will never work. I can give you lots of resources on why this is the case. For the purposes of this conversation, I’ll just say you need to leave as much wiggle room and be as indirect in your suggestions as you possibly can for a PDA person to be willing to… not even willing because that makes it sound intentional. It’s not intentional but for them to be able to grab onto what you’re saying and make it happen.
So I said something like, “I wonder if one thing we could try is, can we think about if there’s anything else that’s bothering you or that’s maybe making your body feel uncomfortable or making your feelings feel bigger today.”
And she was like, “I don’t think so.” And I was like, “Okay.”
Then I needed a break, so we sat at the little table and I took my phone out and I answered email for like 10 minutes, because I didn’t know what to do. Her brother was playing and that was great. At least like one child is getting some exercise, out of the house, moving around. You have to take your wins where you can get them.
And she kind of just sat next to me. She wasn’t like actively upset, I guess she was like passively upset. She was not happy. She wanted to go play. Obviously the socks were bothering her. Her pants were still sort of bothering her. But after like 10 minutes of processing time, do you know what happened?
She turned to me and she said, “Hey Mom, I have an idea.” And I said, “What’s your idea?” and she said, “I think maybe I didn’t drink enough water today.”
My brain was full of possible things. I was expecting there to be some kind of emotional background, like she and her brother had a fight about something, or she saw something on TV that like she had to process, whatever. I thought there was some kind of emotional block and that was what was causing all this like, my socks, my pants stuff.
She goes, “Usually when I get up in the morning, my throat is really dry and I have a bunch of water. But this morning, I woke up too early and my brother wanted something and so I didn’t have the water. And I’m thinking about it now, and I’m wondering if maybe I didn’t have the water and that’s why everything’s really hard.”
And I said, “Okay, really good thinking! I would not have considered that. Would it help if we got some water now?”
And she goes, “Yeah,” and I said, “Okay.” So I hand over her water bottle, which I had brought. She had full access to it in the car. She had access to it the entire time we were sitting there, but she’s an autistic person like her mother, and so she didn’t consider, like, “Hey, I might be thirsty.”
That interception piece is really hard for a lot of us. She had to actively think like, “What does my body need? Oh, it needs food. I fed myself. Oh, it needs to pee. I peed already. Oh, it needs to drink. Oh, I didn’t drink, right.
It took her that processing time to do it. But she’s seven though! She’s seven and she sat there and she thought. I was so proud of her once I got over the initial sort of shock of like, oh it’s too thirsty. She sat there and she drank, my friends, about 30 ounces of water. I had to refill her water bottle twice.
Then she sat there for five more minutes, and then she said, “I think I could handle the socks now.” I said, “Awesome, do you want me to help you?” and she said, “I’m gonna put them on and see.” She put them on and she walked up the stairs to jump. She ran out to play with her brother, and then she played for three hours.
Three hours. Three hours. So first of all, extreme relief from me, right? Like, okay: one, my kiddo is not broken. Two, the pride in the fact that she, at seven, could say, “This is the thing. I thought about it proactively, and this is the missing piece. It’s that I’m thirsty. That’s like, I mean, I still have bad hunger cues, thirst cues. I have bad sleepy cues. I really have to work to make sure that I am hydrated, fed, and slept. She’s learning at seven what it took me ‘til like age 30 to set up for myself. So, of course, extreme pride.
But also, this exhaustion of like, if I had asked her that question three hours ago when we were still home, maybe the whole day would have been better. I mean, maybe not, like, I don’t know what she needed to get to the point where she said, “Oh, maybe I’m thirsty.” Maybe it was just gonna happen at that point regardless. But also, part of me was like, as a coach, coaching is about asking the right questions, and I was like, “What if I had just asked her prior to the whole pants issue, even? What if I said, ‘Is there anything you need to do to make your body feel better before you get dressed?’” Would she have been able to sit and process and say, “Oh I think I’m thirsty.” And could we have gotten out of the house with that much less trauma and exhaustion and anxiety from everybody?
I don’t know. It’s a mystery. No one knows, right, and that’s why I’m saying I think there are some things, if I had been given this example from a client and I was looking at it, I think I could definitely pick out some things that I did well as a parent. I can also certainly pick out some things that I did not do well as a parent and that I might do differently, had I different energy or any kind of warning that the thing was going to happen.
The thing is, it had been a beautiful morning together. We had talked well. She had been “compliant.” She had eaten. She had gotten dressed. She fed the cats, which is her choice to do, not a demand that I make upon her. She had done a lot, and she had been having a really good day. I didn’t really have any warning that this anxiety was going to pop up in the middle of the day except that often it does. Her experience of her body is so different from mine that I’m not always able to observe the trend of when things will pop up and when it’s fine.
It can change so fast, so fast. It can go from fine to gale force wind anxiety in a minute flat. Even as a parent and as a trained coach … I mean, I trained in autism and ADHD coaching for this child. I did it for myself. I did it for my son. I did it for a lot of things. But, one of the main motivators was that this kiddo needs one-to-one support all the time, and the best way as a parent that I can offer that to her (and it was luckily within my reach at the moment) is to get this training myself and be here with her and offer her those behavioral interventions and support as I can.
I’m so happy I did it and it has really improved a lot for us as a family significantly. I was a gentle parenting advocate but I was a conventional parent for my first kiddo and it was really with my daughter that I learned this PDA approach. The low demand approach, Amanda Diekman calls it low demand. My approach is not exactly the same as Amanda’s. We share a lot of similarities. In some ways, it is a low demand approach. In some ways it is not.
But, this idea that we are collaborative. We are democratic. We make decisions together. My child has the same amount of power in our decision making as I do. I have more experience and I can use my experience of my life and my things that I’ve learned throughout my life as examples for my kiddos, but I don’t have more power than them in almost all cases, because that’s just not going to be successful for PDA.
Anyway, I wanted to tell you the story for a couple reasons. First, so that if you are struggling at home, you know that you’re not alone in that. Even someone with a lot of training who works as a parent coach, who makes my money as a parent, autism, neurodiversity coach for kids and adults, still struggles on a daily basis.
The other thing that I want to point out in this story is that it’s hard for the kiddo too. It’s hard for the PDAer. My daughter wanted to go to the trampoline park. She wanted to make me happy. She wanted to make her brother happy. She wanted to contribute to the family in any way she could.
At the same time, her anxiety was so significant and her sensory overwhelm was so significant that those things eclipsed her ability to be collaborative. She’s not doing any of this stuff for any reason except she’s highly stressed out. She has a dysregulated nervous system to the extreme. Whether your kiddo or your family member or your autistic friend is PDA or not is something you should talk about with a medical professional. But I will say that a lot of the families who come in my doors when they’re looking for a parent coach, when they have kiddos who’ve been diagnosed autistic, who report that their kiddo is troublesome or challenging or doesn’t listen, won’t do their homework, won’t follow directions, won’t eat dinner at the table … those kiddos are not being disruptive on purpose hardly ever.
Kiddos who are not listening, not following directions, are rude, are dismissive of parents, whatever, these are stressed out, anxious, dysregulated, and sometimes traumatized kids. They need a different parenting approach than the ones you were taught. Certainly different than the way your parents parented. But also, probably different than the way that your doctor is telling you to parent, or your therapist is telling you to parent.
The traditional positive discipline, rewards and punishments, go to your room when you do something bad, don’t play video games until you take out the trash – that kind of parenting works really well for a neurotypical and some autistic kids. It worked fine for my first son who is autistic and ADHD. It works fine for him. I prefer the collaborative democratic approach to positive discipline approaches, but I’m not going to say it doesn’t work for a lot of kids in a lot of families. And if it works for your family and you’re happy with your outcomes and it’s promoting your values and dispensing them through your family, then that’s what we want.
But if you’re trying positive discipline, you’re trying to do what the books say to do, you’re trying to do what your therapist says to do, and it’s not working, and you’re still seeing a lot of resistance from your kiddo or your teen or your young adult or whatever, it might be worth looking at PDA and looking at some different approaches to helping your kiddos through that.
I really appreciate you being here with me today and listening to my somewhat rambling story. I really hope it was helpful to some of you. I’m just gonna say that I do have family coaching slots available. We are starting another round of our collaborative parenting six-week group coaching program pretty soon, so there’s a link below if you are interested in that. I encourage you to fill out the interest form and I’ll get in touch and we can see if it’s a good fit for you and your family and what’s going on.
It is designed to help you learn collaborative parenting techniques and democratic parenting techniques which are very supportive of basically all kinds of families who are willing to make the change, who are willing to understand how to work with their children as a team, and not just of fall back on traditional parental authority for the sake of having authority If you’re in a place where you’re ready to try something new, where you are aware that what you’re doing is not working and you’re willing to try something new, and especially if your kiddos are neurodivergent or you yourself are neurodivergent, the collaborative parenting coaching program might be a really good fit for you.
I’m also offering a webinar pretty soon. There will be a link below on practical approaches to parenting for PDA. So, if you liked this episode, and you feel like you want more practical information on “How exactly do I enact this?” obviously the group coaching program is a great way to do that, but step one might be to go to the webinar, and see if it suits you.
So information on the webinar down below. It’s happening pretty soon. I hope you can join us. It’s low cost and all the funds raised from the webinar go into our scholarship pot for low-income coaching clients who need that support so I appreciate your support with that. I hope you’ll come even if you aren’t interested in the group coaching course.
Thank you so much for being here. If you found this episode helpful, will you do me a favor please? Will you subscribe on YouTube or on your streaming platform wherever you are listening or or watching this? Will you please hit the Subscribe Bell? It really really helps. If you really liked it, could you leave a short review on Apple or some other podcast rating system? That also really helps other people find this. And if you really liked it you can become a patron at patreon.com/neurodiverging, or go to neurodiverging.com/donate to find out how you can donate money or time to this podcast and and everything we do at Neurodiverging. We couldn’t do it without your support and we really appreciate it. I hope you all have a beautiful day, and please remember we are all in this together – you, your whole family, me and everyone in the world.
What a great episode. It so clearly describes so many days… but a real success in getting her to the car. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen in our house. The meltdowns leaving get to be too big. I really appreciate the insights. I like the idea of “eat, drink, pee” when grumpy.
Thank you so much for your comment, Betsi. I’m glad this episode was validating for you. We definitely don’t make it to the car more often than we do make it, but it’s getting better and better.