As parents we worry about our kid’s futures, how they will manage as adults. Will they get a job? Will they have their own place? Will they be happy? Will they be stuck living with us forever?
It’s normal to worry, all parents do, parents of PDAers often have extra worries on top, worries about how they’ll fit in, whether they’ll have friends, whether they’ll be able to cope with the demands of the workplace, ect.
One of the most common worries for the future is around supporting the child in the present – ‘If I reduce demands, how will they cope as an adult if they’ve never learnt to comply with demands now?’
Here is my answer to this question:
What they need now is what they need NOW, none of us know whether they’ll need these same things in the future.
While it’s hard not to worry (especially since preparing our kids for the future is part of our roles as parents) it’s important when it comes to meeting our kid’s needs in the present that we only focus on the present. Undermining their needs in order to try to cater for some indeterminate future only makes it harder to help them in the present.
Many parents worry that their child won’t cope with demands as adults if they’ve never learnt to cope with demands as a child. But if we don’t go all out to help our kids when they need support now then we are not really helping our child at all, in the present nor in the future. It’s a bit like refusing to feed someone when they are hungry because you think they might not be able to find a toilet to use in the future. We need to help our kids cope with things now, and worry about the future once they are in a position to be able to learn things for the future. Afterall, a stressed child cannot learn as well as a child that feels supported, understood and calm.
People often fare better in adulthood if they have been supported and accommodated as children. While there isn’t any solid evidence yet on this I imagine PDAers who were brought up in a low demand environment are better prepared mentally to cope with adulthood. Indeed, even if they struggle the same with demand avoidance at least their mental health will be in a far better place.
It’s important to remember that PDA is a disability, this means there are some who will never be able to work regardless of whether they learnt to cope with demand as a child or not (and learning to cope with the demands of childhood is very different to learning to cope with the demands of adulthood. School and workplace don’t compare, they are different environments with different demands). However, the difference between those individuals will be in their mental health. A child who was never fully given the environment they needed as a child will have more mental health issues than one who was fully accommodated for.
I am someone who grew up in anything but a supportive, low demand environment. I was taught how to ‘cope’ with demands. I also became an adult who was severely depressed and suicidal. I managed to get through school, I managed to get through college/uni, but I have never been able to hold down a job (certainly not a full time job) for longer than a few months. Being able to cope with demands hasn’t helped me as an adult, using PDA strategies and having a low demand environment however has significantly improved my mental health.
We don’t know what the future will hold.
10 years ago, if someone was struggling in the workplace I would have recommend changing jobs, nowadays that is not as easy an option, given the current unsteady climate. In 10 years it may be different again, it may be harder to change jobs or it may be loads easier, we don’t know.
While it’s helpful to be aware of some issues our kids need to prepare for the future, we simply cannot fully know what that future will be. Whether our kids will find a job that is perfect for them, meaning we worried needlessly, or whether they struggle over and over to cope in any job, or whether they cannot get any job or even make it to adulthood. We don’t know. It makes more sense to support them in the present and deal with the future as it happens.
People know far more about PDA now than they did 10 years ago, there is more support, advice and information than before. Hopefully there will be even more in another 10 years time, and by focusing on how we can help families now we can help more in the future.
If we focus too much on the future we may miss out on opportunities to help our kids in the present, help which might actually support us as adults in the future.
What does ‘coping with demands’ mean to you?
It seems to be expected in many workplaces that employees do what they are told, when they are told, without question. I hate to point out but that environment just isn’t suitable for PDAers, at all. Just as a workplace that has several floors and only stairs to access them is not suitable for someone in a wheelchair. Just as a workplace where you might be exposed to blood often is not suitable for someone with a phobia of blood. And while employers are supposed to provide adequate accommodations for disabled people, we all know many still do not.
When we say we need to teach our kids how to cope with demands now incase they need to cope with demands as adults it reminds me of what too many teachers have said ‘kids need to be bullied in order to learn how to cope with bullying in the workplace’. For PDAers, imposed demands is as damaging as bullying, so why exactly do we need our kids to learn how to cope with that? Shouldn’t imposed demands be seen as just as bad as bullying, especially for PDAers? There’s a distinct difference between necessary demands (eating, sleeping, ect) and imposed demands (sit up straight, stop talking, do as you’re told, ect), just as there’s a distinct difference between two people who like or even enjoy mocking each other and someone insulting another over and over despite the victim asking them to stop.
We don’t, and shouldn’t, teach our kids to put up with harmful experiences because it ‘might’ happen to them in the future. Helping our kids cope with the demand of eating so they stay alive is vastly different to getting them to cope with being told what to do just in case they might work in a place that expects unwavering compliance.
When it comes to working, it’s usually best to try for environments which the individual can cope with overall. This is why so many PDAers look to self employment, because having full control over our environment is often best.
Of course there are still things we must do, taxes, finances, speaking to customers, ect. These are absolutely all demands. But so is having to pick up food and place it in our mouths, so is having to buy toothbrushes and pay to use the bus. It is impossible to have a demand free life, for PDAers this just doesn’t exist.
When it comes to the normal everyday demands of life outside of work, it’s a bit harder to distinguish between what is necessary and what is not. We live in a world of convenience so in many ways demands are easier for adults now. If I need food I don’t have to leave the house to get it. If I need company I can turn to online friends rather than having to force myself through the demands of stepping outside. We can work much more from our homes, deal with issues via email, pay for things without having to handle cash nor visit a bank, buy household necessities online and use YouTube to fix household problems without ever having to engage with actual people. In many ways adulthood is easier than childhood.
It is difficult to know what our kids might need to learn for the future, and ultimately, as long as they know how to find out how to do things then they don’t really need to be taught much at all. Indeed, teaching PDA kids how to manage their emotions and how to use coping strategies that work for a variety of demands is much more effective than teaching us to cope with each individual demand we may or may not experience. Does a child need to know how to use a till in a supermarket if they, as adults, will just order food online and use the local shop? Do kids need to know how to use the bus if they decide to learn to drive instead? Do kids need to know how to get a hair cut at a hairdresser if they are just going to cut their hair themselves?
While it’s always helpful to know how to do these things just in case, if teaching them is going to negatively affect them then is in not far better to teach them how to learn how to do these things if and when they need them? Afterall, how many parents teach their kids how to cut their own hair, order food online and how to drive?
As long as they are able to get food somehow, get their hair cut somehow, get to places somehow, does it really matter which option they use? Especially if one option affects them negatively?
Sometimes it helps us to think about demands and whether the demands we are teaching our kids to cope with are actually necessary and helpful, or pointless and harmful. Pushing a demand simply for the reasoning being ‘you need to learn to cope with it’ seems pretty harmful. If it’s not necessary for survival, if there are other viable alternatives, then it is usually best to drop the demand.
If you want us to learn how to cope with demands so we can manage as adults, well guess what, we already are. There’s only so much we can delegate to others, whether as children or adults, ultimately it is us that has to swallow our food, use our own legs to stand, use our own lungs to breathe. We are already using strategies to cope with these demands. The difference between an adult doing these things and a child, is that as adults we have experience on our side. I spent years developing my own coping strategies that allow me to cook my ownfood, clean my house, go shopping, catch a bus by myself, carry out hobbies, ect. Children haven’t yet had that amount of time to learn how to do these things, but they can get there.
Imagine how much easier I might have found adulthood if I hadn’t gone into it with severe depression, self loathing, high anxiety and attempted suicide. If my parents had known about PDA, if they had given me a low demand environment and supported me. I might have been able to even manage the work environment.
Reducing and removing demands is given as a PDA parenting strategy because it works, it works where pushing and forcing and expecting and demanding don’t work. By reducing and removing demands you are giving your child room to cope with demands without negatively affecting their mental health.
As we get older and become adults, once puberty is over and our brains have stabilised and we are no longer fraught with hormonal emotional changes, we become better able to cope. Often this is in our mid to late 20’s. It becomes easier for us to cope with demands, we look as if we have ‘finally grown up’, we are in a better place emotionally and mentally to increase demands ourselves. This will be a far better place if we have been supported mentally, physically and emotionally up until that point.
The reason it is better to accomodate PDAers as kids is because it helps us as adults. There’s no need to worry about whether we will cope as adults (though I know it’s not easy not to worry, pretty sure worrying is a parents job), everything you do that helps your child now will also help them as adults.
We need to reframe our thinking from ‘if I reduce demands, how will they cope as an adult if they’ve never learnt to cope with demands’ to ‘if I reduce demands now they will cope as an adult because I’ve helped them cope with demands’.