Demand Avoidance

‘Demand avoidance’ involves not being able to do certain things at certain times, either for yourself or others, and also refers to the things we do in order to avoid demands.

It’s a natural human trait – avoiding demands is something we all do to different degrees and for different reasons.

When demand avoidance is more significant there can be many possible reasons for this – it could be situational; relate to physical or mental health; or relate to a developmental or personality condition. 

What are demands?

Demands in PDA are many and cumulative. It can be helpful to think about some of the different ‘types’ of demands. Thank you to PDA adult and advocate Julia Daunt for sharing this image with us:

Direct demands are requests or questions made by other people or situations – such as ‘put your shoes on’, ‘sit here and wait’, ‘pay this bill’ or ‘would you like a drink?’.

In addition to these more obvious direct demands, there’s a whole raft of indirect and internal demands, including:

  • Time – time is an additional demand on top of the demand itself
  • Plans – advance planning may lead to increased anxiety as the time/date for ‘the plan’ nears, but equally the intolerance of uncertainty that is a key factor in PDA may make ‘spur of the moment’ activities tricky …
  • Questions – the expectation of being required to respond to a direct question can be disabling
  • Decisions – sometimes knowing a decision has to be made makes it a demand, or ‘options paralysis’ may set in if there are too many possibilities
  • Internal bodily demands – such as thirst or needing the bathroom
  • Thoughts/desires – internal feelings
  • Uncertainty – research from Newcastle University showed that intolerance of uncertainty is a significant factor in PDA, with PDA autistics needing to know and feel in control of what’s going on
  • Praise – this carries the implied expectation that the action will be carried out again or improved on next time, and so may not achieve the positive reinforcement that may be intended
  • Transitions – the demand to stop and switch what you’re doing and also the uncertainty around what may come next
  • Expectations – from others and of yourself
  • Sensory overload & sensory integration difficulties
  • Other people’s ‘energy’ and presence
  • Things we want to do – like hobbies, seeing friends or special occasions – so not just the things we might not want to do like housework or homework.

Then there are demands within demands – the smaller implied demands within larger demands (for example, within the demand of going to the cinema are the demands of remaining seated, responding appropriately, sitting next to other people you don’t know, being quiet etc. etc.).

And there are the many “I ought to” demands of daily life – getting upwashingbrushing teethgetting dressedeatingcooking, chores, learningworkingsleeping … the list goes on.

Demands will be perceived differently by different individuals, and response to demands may also be variable.


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