I want to talk a bit about what we in the PDA community call triggers. A trigger, is something that causes a spike in anxiety. If a trigger is pressed and not handled correctly, there is a significant risk that the situation will escalate quickly and can lead to meltdown. A meltdown is the brains overload to stimuli and loss of control.
A trigger can be set off from another persons reaction to something. It can be set off by a core value being questioned, a bit like setting off a mental alarm bell. It can be anxiety provoking conversations, or too many requests. Triggers are related to the PDA traits and are as important as using PDA strategies.
When we talk about knowing your child triggers, we mean that we can learn what upsets the PDA child and how we can work around those triggers to avoid unwanted outbursts and added stress. Knowing the PDA triggers is vital in living in a calm PDA world. There are many people who are setting off PDA triggers all day every day without being aware, so this post is to shed some light onto that in the hope that awareness and education can help the many who live in unnecessary heightened anxiety every day.
I think it’s safe to say that the base line of anxiety of someone with a PDA brain is always higher than the average person. If we surmise that some people do not feel anxiety unless a serious threat is upon them, some people have steady anxiety, meaning they are sensitive to emotions and experience anxiety levels rise frequently, and then there are those with PDA who, from my observation and experience, have high anxiety all of the time.
When a trigger goes off and is not calmed as soon as possible, overwhelming anxiety proceeds and the lid blows. There isn’t much maneuvering room for a person who has high anxiety all of the time, and when additional anxiety triggering situations occur, flight or flight protection system just kicks in at number 10 as if to say, help me, or get me outta here! And all we see on the receiving end is an out of control child.
My base line of anxiety is more the middle variety. I can control it, I am aware of it, but it can become very overwhelmed if my base line has risen too many times in a day, or a week, or a month. This is when I know that I have to take extra care of myself, have some down time. If you have a PDA brain, and your anxiety base level is always high, you may not be getting the opportunity to recognize that there are ways to feel better. Life becomes high alert and this is very unhealthy for the body and mind. So we can start to see how important it is to help the person with PDA manage their base line. Ideally, keeping it as low and level as we can. This means, knowing triggers and not setting them off. It also means putting multiple plans in place such as being in the right environment, being comfortable with whats going on around us, eating well, sleeping well, doing things that make us happy. Take a look through my blog for heaps of info about anxiety and self care.
There is controversy around whether PDA is part of ASD. Some say that PDA is an anxiety based disorder. I disagree with this. I do agree that anxiety underpins the unwanted behaviors or difficulties associated with PDA, but I do not believe that if we removed anxiety, we would cure PDA. There are too many exact and un movable behaviors in PDA to put it all down to anxiety and there are too many specifics for PDA to be ASD with refusal. Whether fight or flight is set off is a separate issue to the actual traits of PDA. The traits of PDA, ie the way the person reacts to certain triggers, are, in my opinion, neurologically hard wired. Pathological.
One of those traits is an obsessive need to be in control and one of the triggers is to feel lack control.
I will now give you an example of something I’ve been studying with my daughter.
The trigger of ‘losing control of ones right to decide fully what they want in any given moment’.
Specifically, to remedy this trigger, she hooks into something that brings her peace or joy and does everything she can to have that need filled. It quickly becomes obsessive and desperate, which can then appear, to the untrained eye, like spoilt brat syndrome. Which I can assure you, is not.
I do not speak only for myself when I explain that when a person with PDA feels an overwhelming need to do something or have something, they have to achieve that need at all costs. Feeling happy can become obsessional and seeking activities that induce happiness at any cost can conflict with the things that are going on in every day life with those who care for them. For example, the need to suddenly stop everything and play, or listen to music, or visit a particular place. To the child with PDA, this can be likened to a mater of life or death. Black or white, now or never. They will do everything in their power to achieve that need, to be happy right now.
There are thousands of us across the internet that share this same observation within PDA. It is then, ironic that if a need, request or suggestion comes from another person, the PDA child will find every way in their power to avoid that ‘demand’. You can see how a situation can so easily become uncontrollable on both sides. It is during this insatiable ‘need filling’ that we as parents, can make or break a situation.
We (society in general) are unconsciously programmed to not bow down and meet the needs of every request a child asks of us. Since the Victorian times and before, we have seen children as something to be molded and taught, using methods such as control, fear, discipline and punishment to achieve these goals, like an army to be compliant citizens, you could say, a mans world. Don’t cry, don’t show emotions, don’t be hysterical, don’t answer back to your elders, these values are still very present in most of us, even if we don’t really notice it. Most react with a response system that analyses the request, judges the validity and the assesses the situation based on many, many semi conscious data downloads, which all happen in a split second and we then spurt out our decision. Then, once we have said no, we feel we cannot back down, that we know best, that that’s just how it is, or we have to learn this because of the real world!! We lost the feminine in child rearing long ago and this needs to be redressed.
Saying no can be one of the biggest triggers there is. (I wrote a blog with this title a few years ago) It can also be a trigger on top of a trigger. If we dig deep and re play a triggering senario, are we saying no to a needed remedy from a previous trigger? Can you see how we can be making things worse without even knowing it? When the PDA child spins out of control because they are not in control, we have a choice. We can meet their demand and save the day, or we can push on through to meltdown. We can find the space between the situation and delay our reaction in order to create a more calming and loving response. With deeper insight into what triggers our children and why, we can start to create much better practices and most importantly, we can save some of the children who are living in anxiety all of the time.
I don’t have an problem with backing down, doing what my PDA child asks of me or adapting to avoid meltdowns. I’ve learnt through PDA strategies to avoid or be aware of most of our triggering situations and I have learnt on a spiritual level to be fine with that. However, by means of learning more about impulse control, I have been observing what happens when I have had to say no. During these times my daughter and I have been able to get to a place where, painful as it is, we can see how much we accommodate her PDA. The shock of saying no has sent her off the scale. She has then been able to articulate how unstoppable the pain of a trigger going off is. She has been able to tell me that it’s her PDA that is not allowing her to back down. Confirming to me that PDA is the most real thing I’ve ever seen and that we have been handling things right when we allow full freedom above and beyond our own needs as parents. We have had, over the past few weeks, a meeting of awareness, in the moment, and a full appreciation that her PDA cannot and will not be changed. And she has seen me in that moment and she has recognized how fully I can see her. It is without doubt in my mind, absolutely necessary to help the person with PDA not to be triggered, but at the same time, help them to be fully aware of how their mind works and how it is interpreted by a neuro typical person too. To reach a mutual understanding of mindsets, is a massive step forward in living in some sort of harmony with PDA.
PDA triggers are..
Being pressed to do something that has come from another person.
Being in a situation where one is expected to behave in a certain way, use manners, be polite etc.
Being asked too many questions and expected to answer the questions.
Behaving inauthentically, others who follow the crowd without thinking more deeply about what they are doing.
Being told no.
Being made to follow rules that are stupid.
Lying or being unfair.
Not having an escape route.
Changes of plans.
Questioning their authenticity.
Expectations, especially behaving well because it’s a birthday or a special occasion.
Disagreeing with the person with PDA! You will never win the argument!
Being too loud, certain noises, like chewing!
Sarcasm or micky taking.
Lack of self care.
Feeling out of control, especially if their closest helpers are not there.
Being praised in-authentically, voices that are too enthusiastic.
Not being given honest and full explantions.
Wanting to do something and feeling more and more pressure and anxiety each time brain says no.
Feeling confused about what is going to happen in the future.
To summarize today’s post. As parents, we are a long way from receiving the help we need to raise our PDA kids. Awareness is growing and things will change, but don’t wait for that change. Be the change. Becoming fully aware of your child’s needs, their triggers and the lessons they are here to show you is so, so important and a lot easier than you think. Work with your child, listen to them, love them, have their back and try your best not to add to their anxiety. Teach those who are in direct contact with your child, how to use PDA strategies and what to look for in high anxiety provoking situations. Remove them from environments that are not helping them. Yes you can.
Work every day on trust and never be too suborn to back down or say sorry. Question everything you do.
Be aware that the trigger that is going off may be the 5th trigger or the 10th, not the first.
Set your lives up to be free and flowing and loving and keep the overall anxiety down, it is then that we see how precious these kids are. As keepers of these free spirits, we have a sacred duty to help them do the job they were sent here to do.