"What’s in a name?
PDA - Permanent Demand Anxiety?
The fabulous Neville Starnes (PDA Society and presenter of the bluemillicent videos on YouTube) once 'redefined' PDA as ‘Permanent Demand Anxiety’ and I have found this so helpful and is how I think about my daughter all the time. It has also really helped me explain things to other people who hear the term Pathological Demand Avoidance and don't 'get it'. I was sick of people saying things like "Well she doesn't avoid every demand does she ?" or "But that doesn't explain the swearing or violence?" etc. Aaaargh!! The term Pathological Demand Avoidance unfortunately focuses on the behaviour that results from the anxiety. Permanent Demand Anxiety reminds us all that it is the anxiety that causes the behaviour.
It means I can give them an analogy or explanation that they might understand. e.g. someone who is fearful of spiders - they may be able to cope with little ones, or ones far away, or pictures of spiders or spiders in the garden but not in the house. They are still anxious about spiders but they may not react - they are 'coping'. That person may become more agitated if there are lots and lots of little ones, or a big hairy legged one up on the ceiling or are watching a documentary all about spiders etc. They would almost certainly react if one ran across the carpet in front of them. I then ask how they would feel if their partner or best friend dropped a spider on them? or opened a box with 100 tiny spiders and let them free ? And then got a 5 inch tarantula and put it in their lap ..... I can almost guarantee that the most non-violent, loving individual would experience and probably exhibit physical rage towards that loved one!
And that, I tell them is what it is like for my daughter every second of every day. She wakes up every morning surrounded by 'tiny spiders' and every second of every day she is aware of bigger ones lurking and massive ones that might be dumped on her without warning. And sometimes it is the last little 'spider' that triggers the explosion. I try and explain that the tiny spiders can be things like knowing she has to get out of bed, or go to the loo or eat breakfast. The demands that cause such devastating anxiety to our children can be so apparently 'undemanding' that other people fail to understand they are there at all.
And the thing I find most difficult to cope with is the fact that she is hard-wired for this anxiety. She will never be without it. My job is to help her find ways to cope with the anxiety, reduce it and not let it control her. I monitor and reduce the demands when I can or when I need to so that she has as much time as possible where her stress levels are low enough for her to think clearly and practice skills she will need in the future, and to enjoy her childhood (or at least not beg me to kill her because life feels unbearable).
I don't sanction or remove privileges when she has violent outbursts because I understand they are driven by overwhelming anxiety. And every single time it happens she has been mortified and apologised afterwards. She has frequently asked me "How can you love me when I am so horrible?" My biggest reassurance comes not when she tells me that she loves me, but when she tells me she knows I love her.
I also know that my daughter is incredibly brave but she needs time and space to gather together her strength. She might be able to step back, think about looking more closely at a 'big spider' and in her own time and with complete control over when and how far she goes will choose to face her fears. If she is pushed towards her fears she will react against and pull away (or if I'm honest she would probably swear and hit back!) I now have confidence to allow my daughter the time and space she needs to make decisions and this has proved incredibly positive for both of us.
Mum of Poppy."