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Understanding Pathological Demand Avoidance in Men with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Pathological Demand Avoidance in Men with Autism Spectrum Disorder 1
Pathological Demand Avoidance is an intense need to avoid normal demands and expectations

Within the broad range of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there exists a lesser-known but highly significant subtype known as Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). While PDA is often associated with children, it’s essential to recognize that it can affect individuals of all ages, including men with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In this article, we will delve into the concept of Pathological Demand Avoidance, its unique characteristics in men with ASD, and strategies for managing this challenging condition.

What is Pathological Demand Avoidance?

Pathological Demand Avoidance is a term coined by Professor Elizabeth Newson in the 1980s to describe a profile of autism characterized by an intense need to avoid everyday demands and expectations. People with PDA often exhibit extreme resistance to following instructions or meeting even simple daily requirements. This is different from the more commonly known features of autism, where individuals might display repetitive behaviors, restricted interests, and difficulties in social communication. PDA can exist as a standalone diagnosis or co-occur with other developmental conditions, most notably Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Recognizing PDA in Men with ASD

  • Demand Avoidance: The hallmark of PDA is its intense demand avoidance. Men with ASD and PDA may go to great lengths to avoid tasks or requests, often displaying manipulative or evasive behaviors. This can include negotiating, making excuses, or resorting to meltdowns when faced with demands.

  • Social Masking: Men with PDA are often skilled at masking their difficulties in social situations. They might mimic expected behaviors to a certain extent, but underneath the surface, there’s a constant internal struggle to conform to societal expectations.

  • Anxiety and Control: Anxiety is a prominent feature of PDA. Men with this profile experience high levels of anxiety when demands are placed upon them, leading to a strong desire for control over their environment and interactions. This can manifest as a need to dictate the terms of social interactions or a preference for solitary activities where they can maintain control.

  • Resistance to Routine: Unlike many individuals with ASD who find comfort in routines, those with PDA often resist them. They may establish their routines, but they are highly resistant to anyone else imposing routines or schedules on them.

  • Social Engagement: While individuals with PDA may struggle with traditional social interactions, they can be highly engaging and sociable when it aligns with their interests or desires. They often prefer interactions on their own terms.

  • Language and Communication: Language development can vary, but individuals with PDA often have strong verbal abilities. However, their communication might be used for manipulation or avoidance rather than genuine social interaction.

Challenges Faced by Men with ASD and PDA

Understanding PDA in men with Autism Spectrum Disorder is essential because it presents unique challenges:

  • Misdiagnosis: Men with ASD and PDA are often misdiagnosed as having conduct disorders or oppositional defiant disorder due to their challenging behaviors. This can delay appropriate interventions and support.

  • Increased Anxiety: The constant tension between the desire for control and the external demands can lead to elevated anxiety levels, affecting mental health and well-being.

  • Strained Relationships: PDA can strain relationships with family, peers, and professionals due to the difficulties in accommodating the individual’s need for control and autonomy.

  • Limited Access to Support: Many support strategies developed for individuals with ASD do not effectively address the unique needs of those with PDA, leaving men with this profile with limited access to appropriate interventions.

Strategies for Managing PDA in Men with ASD

Managing PDA in men with ASD requires a tailored and holistic approach that considers their unique characteristics. Here are some strategies that can be helpful:

  • Developing a Collaborative Approach: Collaborate with the individual to set expectations and negotiate demands when possible. Involving them in decision-making can reduce anxiety and resistance.

  • Flexible Learning and Work Environments: Recognize that traditional educational or workplace environments may not suit individuals with PDA. Offering flexibility in how tasks are completed can make a significant difference.

  • Managing Anxiety: Addressing anxiety is crucial. Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques can help individuals with PDA manage their anxiety levels.

  • Building on Interests: Engage individuals in activities that align with their interests. This can provide motivation and reduce the need for excessive demand avoidance.

  • Clear Communication: Use clear, concise, and unambiguous language when making requests or providing instructions. Visual supports and schedules can also be beneficial.

  • Support Networks: Establish support networks that understand PDA and its challenges. This includes family, friends, educators, and therapists who can work together to provide consistent support.

  • Therapeutic Interventions: Therapy and social skills training can be valuable therapeutic interventions for individuals with PDA.


Pathological Demand Avoidance presents unique challenges in men with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Understanding the characteristics and challenges associated with PDA is essential for providing effective support and interventions. By adopting tailored strategies that address the specific needs of individuals with PDA, we can improve their quality of life and help them navigate a world that often places demands and expectations upon them. It’s crucial to remember that individuals with PDA, like anyone else, have unique strengths and talents that can shine when given the right support and opportunities.

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Autism Spectrum Disorder psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience.


Dr. Kenneth Roberson

Dr. Kenneth Roberson is an Adult Autism Psychologist in San Francisco with over 30 years of experience. Click below to ask a question or schedule an appointment.

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