I know most parents at some point will try to agree an arrangement with their kid/s, ‘you do this and I’ll do that’ or ‘if you don’t do that then I’ll do this’. It’s a good concept, a little give and take between two people, coming to a compromise between two opposing forces which may want different things. Mutual agreement is a great idea.
So why then does it not work quite as well with PDAers as it does with other kids?
“We agreed that he would take a bath on Tuesdays and Fridays if I didn’t nag him to wash the rest of the week, but when Tuesday came around he refused to bathe, even though it was his idea in the first place”
The thing about Demand Avoidance is that it isn’t something the PDAer can control. Agreements, however willing when given, are done by a person who doesn’t have full control over their actions. When faced with a Demand, the brain causes the body to react however it sees fit regardless of what the individual wants. This is one of the biggest frustrations for PDAers, and it feels like a constant fight between what we want and what our brain tells us we must do.
When making an agreement with a PDAer, you’re making an agreement with someone who has little control over whether that agreement is carried out.
This can be frustrating for both parties, as one side will feel like the PDAer is deliberately manipulating them to get what they want and the PDAer will feel helpless to carry out the agreement, thus making them feel like they are letting the other person/s down. This is one of the reasons I dislike agreements for behaviour between a school and a student, especially in Primary schools, because they underestimate the control any child has over their own actions, let alone a PDAer. They are just setting up the child for failure.
If PDAers had control over their actions there wouldn’t be a need for a PDA diagnosis, and perhaps the condition would never have been discovered. In PDAers there seems to be a large disruption between the brain and the individual’s conscience, this is more than likely to be a result of the amygdala being in control over most of the PDAers actions due to the almost constant alertness from the constant perception of Demands. Basically, everything a PDAer does in response to a Demand is decided by the amygdala, the part of the body which deals with keeping us safe by using Fight, Flight, Freeze to respond to threats. The amygdala can take over the brain and force us to act without any conscious decision. This is supposed to keep us safe by allowing us to respond immediately to threats. This is helpful when an actual threat appears, but often the amygdala cannot differentiate between actual threats and safe things, hence people having an exaggerated response to tiny spiders or people challenging our morals. With PDAers, we perceive almost everything to be a threat, so our amygdala’s tend to be working overtime.
So when a PDAer agrees to an arrangement, we may consciously intent to carry out our part of the agreement, but when it comes time to do so our brain perceives the task as a Demand, our amygdala starts up and stops us from complying.
There are ways around this, we can use coping strategies to help us work around our amygdala. These don’t always work and for children it is much, much harder to go against Demand Avoidance.
So while it’s a good idea to use agreements, even with PDAers, don’t expect them to always happen, and be prepared for Demand Avoidance.