Over the many years we’ve been on this planet, we’ve invented many forms of communication. We can talk face to face, write, sing, text, email, call, sign, use morse code, and even speak through a message in a bottle. Despite all of this, we tend to still have trouble communicating as people. Misunderstandings happen, bad first impressions are given, and certain social hints can be misinterpreted or outright overlooked.
Communication, specifically the social kind, is a struggle for many people, and a group of people that truly know are those who are on the spectrum. There is a subgroup of the autistic community that has only recently been identified, and that would be people with PDA, or Pathological Demand Avoidance.
If you know anyone with PDA, or perhaps you yourself have it (read the symptoms of PDA), communication can be fairly difficult, especially when it comes to children with PDA, but there are ways to make things easier between you and the other party. When talking to someone with PDA, there are some dos and don’ts that are important to follow. You can’t just brute force it and continue talking the same way in hopes they’ll adjust or “get over it”. The general rule is that you should be willing to adapt.
So, here I’ll go over what PDA is specifically and the dos and don’ts of communication.
What is PDA?
Pathological Demand Avoidance is a subgroup of Autism Spectrum Disorder where those who have it can go to extremes to avoid demands. Obviously it differs for everyone, but it can be as simple as expecting someone to brush their teeth before they go to bed.
Anything perceived as a demand can induce a fairly large amount of anxiety, and the lengths they go through to avoid this anxiety affects important aspects of their lives, whether it be work, school, or in their social lives; especially their social lives.
As it so happens with many people with autism, most people with PDA have difficulty with communication, especially since some can be construed as a demand. These difficulties can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Reacting in socially-acceptable ways
- Tone of voice
- Verbal and non-verbal communication
Any of these can be perceived as a demand at any point, which is why having a healthy social life can be very difficult for someone with PDA. Thankfully, we have ways to go about making communication easier. All it takes is some guidelines.
The “Do”s of Communicating with People with PDA
- Keep things short and sweet. Simplicity is best, and the more things get complicated, the more room there is for misunderstanding, confusion, and long-windedness.
- Use other communication means. Sometimes they don’t want to talk over the phone or face to face. Sometimes they feel more comfortable speaking to you through text or through voice messages. Find out what suits them best and go from there.
- Give them time and space. There are times where they just aren’t in the mental headspace to properly respond to anything. If you send them a message and they don’t reply in a few hours, just give them some time. When it gets to an abnormally long time (a day or two), be sure to check in.
- Adapt to their way of conversing. There are many styles of communication people with PDA take up. Some prefer just to listen while you do all the talking, while others prefer they control the conversation. You need to be able to adapt.
- Understand when the conversation is at an end. It can be hard for them to properly dismiss a conversation, so keep an eye out for the hints on when a conversation has run its course.
- Keep communication positive. Make sure that communicating with you is a positive experience so they’re more likely to continue.
- Ask them. If you aren’t sure what you should or shouldn’t do around them, ask.
The “Don’t”s of Communicating with People with PDA
- Don’t communicate unless the subject with PDA wants to communicate. Many don’t want a conversation they aren’t ready for thrust upon them. Wait for them to approach first unless it’s pretty important.
- Don’t force them to make eye contact. Eye contact can be hard for someone with PDA. If you see them constantly looking away, don’t push it.
- Don’t make things too emotional. Being emotional can make it hard for people with PDA to react properly, as reacting to the emotional situations of another can be hard when one can’t quite relate. Not to mention that many people expect a more “socially-acceptable” response to another’s emotions.
- Don’t blame them or yourself. Sometimes confrontation is inevitable, but for the most part, if it isn’t important, just drop it. You can point out little mistakes here and there, but don’t play the blame game, even with yourself. You need to cut yourself some slack, too, after all.