When it comes to communicating with people who are new to PDA, or are yet to fully understand it, it can be difficult for me to describe PDA in ways that are recognised but are not negative. As an advocate, one of my jobs is to push for awareness of PDA amongst those who have never heard of it, this often means using language I’d prefer not to use, because these are more easily recognised and understood by society in general.
Words like ‘controlling’, ‘defiant’, ‘manipulative’, ‘violent’, ‘oppositional’, ‘naughty’ ect, are all used to describe PDAers, especially by those yet to fully understand that these behaviours they are describing are just coping strategies for a child that feels scared, powerless, anxious and lost.
Society seems to be so focused on trying to control and dominate little people that when the child pushes against that control and dominance they are then labelled as defiant and oppositional. Society has such strict rules and expectations of little people that when they try to grasp some of that control over their own lives for themselves, when they fail to understand the rules and don’t conform, they are labelled as controlling and manipulative.
Then people come along and say we mustn’t label our children as Pathologically Demand Avoidant because the label will be with them forever and they will never be free of it.
I fail to see how a label that explains why our children are pushing against societies strict regime and cold refusal to understand and accept, is worse than them being described as ‘controlling’, ‘defiant’, ‘naughty’, ‘bad’…
Seems to me the latter does far more harm and lasts for far longer.
So what can be done about the negative narrative when communicating with people new to PDA? It’s difficult because, until society changes and stops thinking in negative terms towards children’s behaviours and accepts differences, those terms are important to signposting people towards the PDA ‘label’. I have to keep describing PDA in negative ways because that’s how newcomers will recognise their child and say “that fits them to a T”.
But! I shouldn’t stop there. Whilst I might have to use negative labels to help parents of PDAers understand their child’s differences that doesn’t mean I have to keep using those negative labels. This is where the words ‘seem to be’ come to play, because PDAers aren’t manipulative and defiant, they just seem that way to other people. This is where rephraising things helps, PDAers aren’t controlling just for the heck of it, they ‘have a need to control their own environment, and this can often extend to the people in their environment’ and ‘they don’t want nor like being controlling, they need control over their own lives in order to survive’.
Changing how things are worded and described in important. Changing ‘is controlling’ to ‘needs control over their own life to survive’ makes a huge difference, for starters it highlights that it isn’t a consious choice, it’s a need. This alone helps parents and others to change their perspective on their children. Children aren’t ‘bad’, children aren’t ‘naughty’, they are struggling. And they need adults help.
So I’m going to make a consious effort whenever I can to communicate to all people, especially people new to PDA, that PDAers (and all children) are not bad, they are struggling. Behaviour is communication, kids do well when they can, can’t help won’t.
(Nb I focused mostly on children in this post because it’s usually parents I am communicating with in this respect, and the narrative is different with adult PDAers. Adults usually know they are not being controlling and (seeming) defiant on purpose, those they have often been told otherwise throughout their lives)