We don’t have to look very far to find research giving us rather disheartening statistics about the poor emotional health of children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). Up to 70 percent of children with ASD develop mental health difficulties, as opposed to 10 percent of the typical population. Of course, as practitioners and parents of special children, we don’t need to read this research to know it; we live and experience the effects of these statistics every day.
For children with Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA), where high anxiety is the main feature of the condition, the effects of poor emotional health are exacerbated even further. Over time, children and families often find themselves locked into survival patterns that limit their access to social and community facilities others take for granted. Even in schools and social groups that seek to be inclusive, children with PDA can be isolated, making it even more challenging to create a positive and secure sense of well-being.
Key profile characteristics and their impact on emotional wellbeing
Understanding the PDA characteristics that most affect emotional health is an important starting place if we are to stand a chance of improving negative emotional health patterns. This in turn helps us to direct our support and interventions to the areas that create the most emotional impact.
Early Intervention in these areas, while not eliminating all difficulties, will set up a culture of support that can turn the tide of poor emotional health.
Key Characteristics of PDA and their emotional impact
- A need to be in control of the environment and all the people in it.
- Poor emotional regulation or ability to reflect or learn from their emotional experiences.
- Difficulties co-operating with usual teaching structures or methods exacerbated by unrealistic expectations that they hold for themselves or others.
- A constant underlying anxiety about real, perceived or possible demands that may be made in their daily life.
- An inability to make or maintain positive or reciprocal relationships with others—adults or peers.
- Low self-esteem because of their inability to work in the same way as their peers. Negative emotions around their feelings of being let down by others.
What can we do?
The first thing we need to do is recognize that the child’s refusal to cooperate with requests comes from a place of anxiety rather than willful behavior. This changes our predominant feeling to one of empathy, rather than annoyance or disempowerment.