There are times when people who share their diagnosis and/or explain traits of PDA, they are told “Oh, I do that too” or I don’t like demands either”. These comments come from people who are either trying to find common ground with the sharer by saying that they too have similar issues, or they are trying to console or correct the sharer because they either feel like the person needs to be told they actually are just like everyone else or that they are delusional and are making problems out of common everyday issues.
These comments can be hurtful and demeaning, making light of a very serious and life affecting syndrome (as it is known). Whether intentionally or not, these comments can do harm.
It’s true that all humans will avoid some demands, that they will dislike or even hate demands. No, we’re not that different in that no one likes having to do something that is forced upon them. The difference between normal dislike of demands and a (often) crippling condition is that, for us, demand avoidance is pathological. This means it is something innate, it’s part of our biology, it’s to an excessive abnormal degree. The fact that it has pathological in it’s title shows that it’s far above the normal amount. Saying “we all dislike demands” just shows how little the person understands about how much demand avoidance impacts our lives. Indeed, many still get stuck on the thinking that a demand for a PDAer is something someone else has told them to do. It must be hard to grasp that a demand is anything and everything for us, as opposed to a set criteria for them.
When people say that they too avoid demands and have trouble with rules and instructions just like we PDAers do, they unwittingly make light of something that is very serious. I’m sure there are plenty of people who do struggle with demands, that have anxiety and other negative side affects of having to meet demands. However they don’t struggle with this everyday, every hour, in every situation, in every environment, in every way. They don’t struggle to meet demands that they want to do such as going to a party or going swimming or baking a cake, especially if this has been entirely catered for their needs and wants. I doubt there are many non-PDAers who struggle to meet simple everyday demands such as making breakfast or putting their shoes on or washing their hands after using the toilet, even without any other issues impacting these demands such as sensory issues or problems with motor skills. Yet PDAers struggle with these types of demands every day. How many non-PDAers feel panicky when told to pass the salt? Yet they’ll still say they feel the same way about demands as we do.
I’m not denying that many ‘normal’ people struggle with demands, that they avoid doing tasks or have issues which make it difficult for them to want to do certain things, but how many struggle with demands 90% of the day, regardless of what the demand entails? How many have to fight with themselves to do the simple, ordinary things most people do without even thinking about them? How many people live walking on eggshells, in fear of the next person telling them to do something and too scared to share their successes with anyone in case they are expected to repeat them?
When people say they feel the same way, that they experience demand avoidance too, when they make light of our anxieties, they make it harder for us to speak out, it makes it harder for us to be accepted and taken seriously. It makes it harder for people to believe how we feel and how hard every day can be. PDA isn’t classed as a disability for nothing, it’s like trying to face your phobias every waking moment without much change.
So no, you can’t really relate. You don’t know how we feel. You don’t experience the same. It’s like burning your finger on a candle and saying it’s the same as being in the heart of a bonfire. It’s like closing your eyes for a few seconds then saying you now know what it’s like to be blind. It’s like getting on all fours and barking then saying you can sympathise with how a dog feels. There’s no comparison. It’s not the same. And as helpful as you think trying to find similarities between yourself and us is, it’s not the same, it’s not really helpful.
That’s not to say you can’t help in other ways. Don’t try to compare or explain our experiences away, instead learn about PDA. Read up about it, ask us questions, try to become informed. And where possible, make life that bit easier for us by understanding our needs, accepting who we are and what we need and by making changes where possible. If you can understand that demands are difficult for us, then don’t place any demands on us, find ways around the problems. Then, instead of saying you know how we feel, you can say you care about how we feel, even if there’s no comparison. You don’t need to be able to fully relate in order to help.