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  • Writer's picturePatty Laushman

PDA Autism in Adults: From Understanding to Thriving

Updated: Jul 13

By Patty Laushman

Living with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) autism as an adult can be a daunting and isolating experience. The extreme resistance you feel toward everyday demands, the need for control, and the challenges this creates in social interactions can make navigating adulthood feel like an uphill battle. 

An adult woman with PDA autism feelings overwhelmed by demands.

You might struggle with feeling understood by those around you, maintaining relationships, or simply getting through your day-to-day responsibilities. However, it's crucial to remember that while the PDA profile of autism presents distinct challenges, it's possible to find ways to thrive and lead a fulfilling life

In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of self-awareness and self-acceptance, offer tips for creating low-demand environments, and discuss effective communication strategies. Most importantly, we'll remind you that you are not alone on this journey. I hope that by the end you have a sense of hope and practical strategies for improving your quality of life as an autistic adult with PDA. 

By embracing your authentic self and learning to manage the challenges of PDA, you can pave the way for a life filled with purpose and joy. So let’s dive in!

PDA Symptoms in Adults

Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is a profile that matches a subset of people on the autism spectrum characterized by an overwhelming need to maintain control over situations and resist demands. When someone asks if you want to do something, your automatic answer is probably no, even if it's something that you actually want to do. While it is often diagnosed in childhood, the challenges of PDA can persist into adulthood, manifesting in unique ways.

Common Characteristics and Experiences

  • Extreme avoidance of demands, requests, or expectations, even if they seem reasonable to the people around you

  • Sudden mood swings or outbursts when faced with demands

  • Excessive avoidance of starting tasks that feel like demands (looks like procrastination)

  • Telling white lies reflexively out of fear and anxiety to deflect demands

  • Being crafty with language to distract people who are placing demands to ultimately avoid the demands

The Impact on Daily Life

Aa adult woman with PDA autism arguing with her friend.

For adults with PDA, these characteristics can significantly impact various aspects of life. Employment can be challenging due to difficulties following instructions, meeting deadlines, and navigating social dynamics in the workplace. Relationships, both romantic and platonic, may suffer from communication barriers and a fear of losing control. Even simple daily tasks, such as running errands or attending appointments, can become overwhelming.

The Importance of Self-Awareness and Self-Acceptance

Understanding your PDA traits and how they influence your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors is crucial for effective self-management. Embrace the fact that your brain is wired differently, and resist the temptation to compare yourself to neurotypical individuals. Self-acceptance allows you to focus on your strengths and develop coping strategies tailored to your unique needs.

While PDA autism presents distinct challenges, it's essential to remember that with the right support and strategies, it is possible to navigate adulthood successfully. The following sections will explore practical approaches to embracing your authentic self and thriving with PDA.

Embracing Your Authentic Self

One of the most empowering steps in navigating PDA autism as an adult is to embrace your authentic self fully. This means reframing the way you view your neurodivergence and celebrating the unique perspectives and strengths that come with it.

Reframing the Narrative

For too long, PDA autism has been viewed through a deficit-based lens, often portrayed as a disorder or a set of problematic behaviors. However, it's time to shift this narrative and recognize PDA as a different way of being, not something that needs to be "fixed" or cured. Your brain is wired differently, and that's perfectly okay.

Celebrating Your Strengths and Unique Perspectives

While PDA presents challenges, it also comes with valuable traits that can be assets in various areas of life. Many individuals with PDA are highly creative, innovative thinkers with a remarkable ability to think outside the box. Their strong sense of autonomy and determination can translate into unwavering dedication to their passions and interests. Additionally, the intense focus and attention to detail often associated with PDA can be advantageous in certain professions or hobbies when you become an incredible expert in your areas of interest.

Building a Supportive Community

A group of adults with PDA autism who have built a community around supporting each other.

Embracing your authentic self becomes easier when you surround yourself with a community of people who understand and appreciate your neurodivergence. Seek out groups online where you can connect with others adults with PDA autism. Sharing experiences, strategies, and insights can be incredibly empowering and validating.

For the people closest to you in your real life, this blog post, Pathological Demand Avoidance in Adults – How to Help Them Get Unstuck, can help educate those around you and help create an environment in which you can really thrive.

You might also consider working with a life coach who can help and support you through the process! Thrive Autism Coaching offers a complimentary consultation to discuss your situation and explore whether this might be a good fit. You can schedule that consultation here.

Remember, your PDA autism is an integral part of who you are, and it's essential to honor and celebrate that aspect of your identity. By reframing the narrative, recognizing your strengths, and building a supportive network, you can cultivate a deep sense of self-acceptance and even pride in your unique way of being.

Practical Strategies for Thriving with PDA

While embracing your authentic self is crucial, it's also essential to develop practical strategies to navigate the challenges of PDA autism in adulthood. By implementing these strategies, you can create environments and situations that support your needs and allow you to thrive.

Creating a Low-Demand Environment

This may be so obvious it doesn’t bear mentioning, but one of the most effective ways to manage PDA is to minimize the number of demands and expectations placed upon you. 

An adult man with PDA autism relaxing on his couch during his rest time.

At home, you must have time each day when there are no demands on you to recover from the rest of the day. Try working with the others you live with to create a sanctuary during certain times of the day or week where you can set your own rules and routines that mesh with what others need, too. 

In the workplace or social settings, advocate for accommodations that reduce unnecessary demands, such as privacy and flexible schedules and deadlines. A quiet workspace is also good for preserving energy that might be spent on sensory sensitivities. 

Finding Fulfilling Employment

Traditional 9-to-5 jobs with rigid structures and hierarchies can be challenging for those with PDA. If you’re struggling at work, consider exploring alternative employment options that offer more autonomy and flexibility, such as startup companies, freelancing, remote work, or entrepreneurship. It’s also important to pursue careers or projects that align with your unique interests and strengths, allowing you to thrive on your own terms.

Practice Self-Care

Stress, overwhelm, and burnout can exacerbate PDA traits, leading to increased demand avoidance and emotional dysregulation, so it’s important to approach this holistically. Make sure you get enough sleep, exercise, healthful nutrition, and hydration every day, because if any of these are lacking, it will be harder to manage your PDA. 

An adult with PDA autism meditating in his home.

Engage in self-care practices that help you manage stress and calm your nervous system, such as meditation, engaging in calming hobbies, or spending time in nature or with pets. Try to increase awareness of your personal triggers and implement coping strategies before reaching a breaking point.

Practice Self-Advocacy

Advocating for yourself and raising awareness about PDA autism in adults is crucial for creating a more inclusive and understanding environment. With those around you who are open to it, share reputable resources, personal experiences, and insights to help others understand the unique challenges and strengths associated with PDA. 

Clearly communicate your needs and provide specific examples of how certain adjustments can not only help you thrive personally, but can create a win-win situation for those around you. Building a strong network of allies and supporters can make a significant difference.

By creating low-demand environments, finding fulfilling work, prioritizing self-care, and practicing self-advocacy, you can cultivate a lifestyle that supports your unique needs as an adult with PDA. These practical strategies can help you overcome challenges and experience greater joy, productivity, and overall well-being.

Next Steps

Living with PDA autism as an adult can be a very isolating experience. Many individuals are speaking out about their experiences with PDA autism. Seek out positive role models and inspirational stories that both validate your experiences and also remind you of the incredible potential within you.

An adult man with PDA autism hanging out with supportive friends.

It’s important to surround yourself with a supportive community of individuals who understand and appreciate your unique perspectives. An autism life coach like those at Thrive Autism Coaching can be a game-changing partner in your journey of self-discovery. We offer a complimentary consultation so you can explore whether this might be a fit for you, and you can schedule that call here.

Navigating adulthood with PDA autism is not for the faint of heart, but there is no reason you can’t find confidence and joy in the process of personal growth, self-discovery, and empowerment. By understanding your needs, embracing your authentic self, and implementing practical strategies, you can pave the way for a fulfilling and meaningful life.

This is going to be a process ,though, so remember to celebrate your small victories and milestones along the way. Every time you successfully communicate your needs, recharge in a low-demand environment, or overcome an obstacle, it's a testament to your resilience and determination. These accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem, are significant steps toward embracing your PDA autism and living life on your own terms. And you deserve it!


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