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About PDA: A Response Blog from Marni

By Marni Kammersell on March 18, 2024

Marni Kammersell is a neurodivergent educator who helps families create neuro-affirming family and educational cultures. She's a parent to three 2e kids and is deeply committed to the neurodiversity paradigm, non-coercive relationships, and understanding experience through the lens of the nervous system. You can find her at www.wanderingbrightly.com.




On March 15, 2024, Dr. Patty posted a blog titled PDA: Persistent (&or Pervasive) Drive for Autonomy. After sharing this post on social media, Marni Kammersell offered this thoughtful response which Patty asked to post as a blog for readers to consider and enjoy. Here is what she had to say.


PDA: A Response Blog From Marni


Thanks for the thought-provoking post! Please read my comments in the congenial conversational tone in which I intend them. PDA is a tricky topic, and it's far from all sorted out. The community is developing theories around PDA as we go.


To depathologize PDA therefore, it makes sense first to rebrand it and then more broadly apply it as a neurodivergent experience in general- one that many gifted folks can relate to.


Ah, but here's the rub Patty L Williams [Patty Gently]. The PDA community have been vocal lately about exactly this being a problem - they don't want PDA to be more widely adopted by the neurodivergent community as an “experience" rather than as a complete neurotype. Kristy Forbes has had quite a few posts and perhaps a podcast conversation about this. So yes, depathologize it, but they don't want it co-opted by a broader group of people who aren't really understanding that PDA is not just demand avoidance. There's a lot more to it - the safety piece you mention is really huge, and the hair trigger fight or flight.


Kristy talks about the difficult experience of not being able to do things that she wants to do. Like you are thirsty, but unable to get a glass of water - according to Kristy, those are the experiences that make someone a PDAer. I don't experience that level of demand avoidance myself.


I think it's more difficult with kids, to identify if they are actually going to experience PDA as a lifelong experience, or if they are Autistic and either in burnout or just displaying rational demand avoidance to a world that isn't matching their needs (I mean, hello, school).


When we have a persistent, pervasive drive to be self-governing, we seek it out fervently, with our whole selves even bio-neurologically.


Honestly, I think that is a natural human desire to be self-governing - for all people. Not just neurodivergent people. Not gifted people in particular. For some people who are more neuronormative, their desire for autonomy may be outweighed by their desire for collective belonging, for fitting in.


A lot of neurodivergent people are more inclined to take autonomy over collective belonging, especially when the “belonging" on offer isn't a great fit for their needs. But again that doesn't make them PDAers. That just makes them people who are recognizing systems and situations that aren't serving them, and are rejecting them.


I agree with the intensity and do not mean for PDA to be a neurotype on its own... PDA is a brain difference for sure though. My thing is that it may not be exclusive to autism. It is often seen in my autistic clients and friends and family, yes, and I can tell you I cannot drink water sometimes and totally shut down with certain tasks- and I am not autistic... though I call this demand avoidance and not PDA... so no 'P'. Hmmm... So I will look at this blog to see if I can clarify! And THANK YOU for your reflection. Your insight helps me know how my thoughts and words are being read, too!


Patty L Williams [Patty Gently] this is a big area of interest for me because of my parenting experiences. A lot of my understanding comes from Kristy Forbes and other PDAers, as well as Kieran Rose who is an amazing Autistic educator who is not PDA.


Based on what they teach, I do think of PDA as being exclusively an Autistic profile. A hard wiring that is uniquely intertwined with Autistic neurology. And also a nervous system disability that not all Autistic people experience. It's an extreme lack of felt safety.


With that lens, there are lots of other people who experience nervous system dysregulation and a lack of felt safety for a wide variety of reasons, which can lead to all kinds of baffling behaviors that look like PDA - because the root of behavior is the nervous system. But it can come about via trauma, from unsupportive environments, etc. “Demand avoidance" doesn't make them PDAers though.


There's a lot of pushback right now additionally because PDA is quickly becoming the next “not autistic" tagline for parents and other people who are perpetuating stereotypes about Autistic people. Similar to aspie and a variety of other terms. There's also pushback from Autistic people who feel that carving out such a big space for PDA is problematic, because a lot of what people are attributing to PDA are actually just Autistic traits broadly.


It's a really big topic! Super interesting. Thanks for the opportunity to chat about it.

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