This post is for one of our community who is considering the removal of all demands for her PDA loved one. Hopefully it will be helpful for anyone who is considering a radical change or wants to learn more about how removing demands is beneficial, if not crucial for struggling children with PDA.
Many parents within the PDA community across the world have reported that total demand removal was the only way they have been able to achieve healing of their PDA children. Going demand free is an anxiety detox. A flushing out of the triggers and built up toxins that can send people with PDA into rages, meltdowns and breakdowns. Parents are reporting that their children, some as young as 3, are physically attacking them and siblings on a daily basis due to overload and extremely high levels of anxiety, brought on by the feeling of freedom theft and resulting in lack of control over their own thoughts. Some children are so overwhelmed that a full blown autistic meltdown can last for hours and hours on end. Others have children who are school refusing and unable to cope with the pressure and demands that come hand in hand with the outside world. Some have reached full breakdown (like we did) and are unable to function at all.
Usually, we have exhausted all other methods of parenting and we have come to be in crisis with no where else to turn. With PDA still being questioned and disbelieved, we are turning to other parents who have forged the way with methods that have been successfully tried and tested. One of those methods is the radical removal of all demands.
In her post The principles of a low demand or no demand approach, The Learning Curve details her personal experience with removing demands and shows us how this approach has turned her sons life around. He is now a thriving and happy boy who is self educated with the support of his wonderful Mum. https://thelearningcurvepda.wordpress.com/2018/06/17/pda-no-demand-approach/
From my personal experience of removing all demands and fully meeting the demands my daughter asks of me, I am able to write in the hope it offers some explanation for others. Along with 15 years of Motherhood, I have spoken with many parents who have also removed demands successfully and report that it was the only way they regained a good relationship with their child. Many of these parents have removed their child from mainstream schooling as this is usually the cause of further trauma. Having the freedom to create the lives they wish for their kids, means they have been able to remove demands.
Leaders in the PDA community, such as Lindsay Guttridge from Peace with PDA, teach us that it is possible to step into a new and improved self and that parenthood is a spiritual journey on which we travel with our children. Linsday’s gentle and self loving approach to PDA allows the parent to feel at peace with themselves so they may gain the strength and compassion that goes hand in hand with PDA. If you are completely new to PDA parenting, I urge you to read though Lindsay’s words of wisdom on her blog for ideas on how to begin no demand parenting. http://peacewithpda.com/
Stepping into a radical change of parenting, or anything drastic and against the norm, can be a frightening step to take. I would say though, that if you have come to the cross roads where you are having to consider removing all demands, then your life at the moment is not what you deserve it to be. What have you got to lose? What have you got to gain? I have put together some common questions that come up for PDA parents when considering or embarking on a Demand Detox (see below). Many mothers I have spoken with have had great success with stripping everything back to the basics. Some have continued to live demand free. Some need to live demand free. Others have built up from the better foundations they have been able to lay with completing the Demand Detox and then introduced certain demands back into life, building some resistance and coping strategies together along the way. I have not heard of anyone trialing no demand/ low demand and regretting it or having adverse effects. You may meet clinicians who disagree with this approach, but to them I would say, go and do some research and fund some trials on people with PDA and then tell me it’s not a good idea. There are none, so we have to try what has worked for others and what we can see is working for us. Here are some Q and A to help you decide of a demand detox is right for your family.
Q. If they are out of control now, how do I know that they will not behave in even more dangerous ways when I remove any sanctions?
A. Removing sanctions creates trust. Trust is what a child with PDA craves and needs. When trust is established, behavior is leveled. If there is nothing to butt against, butting stops.
Q. If I stop telling my child what to do and when, how will they know what to do?
A. Telling is a form of control in the eyes of someone with PDA. Teach by showing, trusting, modeling and kindly explaining why we do things such as clean our teeth, and then give space to allow this to happen naturally. In time, self management is established. Patience is a great tool.
Q. My child is violent towards me and their siblings, if she attacks, how do I get them to stop without it being a demand or control?
A. When demand removal is first installed, it is a good idea to make sure everyone in the family is on board with the new regime, especially the child with PDA. The removal of ordinary demands will reduce the overall anxiety baseline and lesson the outbursts that cause physical harm. While the transition is in motion, having a plan for the removal of those in the house that may be harmed will lesson the exposure potential.
Q. How can we detox demands when we still have to go to school and function outside?
A. I would recommend a period of lock down for severe cases. I would treat the detox as a medical intervention and remove the child from school and any activities until the rest period has shown the results you wish to see. If this is not possible, I would be clear that as many demands as possible be removed. When dealing with schools, find a school that is willing to work with you and PDA. Many PDA children are in alternative schools or home educated. Many are unschooled. Please see The learning Curve blog for more information about taking education into your own responsibility.
Q. How do I begin demand detoxing?
A. I agree 100% with The Learning Curve when she talks about talking with the child to explain your idea about changing how we do things. A sudden personality change is going to be a tough transition. Really listening to the child and saying sorry for all of the things you now realize are very tough for them. Acknowledging how things are and chatting together on how things can be is the first step. Then just step into that awareness. Notice what you are asking, how you are saying things, what the meaning is behind every day tasks and events. It’s OK to make mistakes, it’s human to default back to years of conditioning and beliefs. It’s OK to be honest and work with your child. Before you know it, demands will have dropped immensely, just like that first stone of weight on the crash diet. The rest will flow when you allow it to.
Q. What is a demand?
A. Anything that comes from the will of another person, such as a question that requires an answer, a task that needs to be completed, a request or a suggestion. Having to follow a society rule or expectation, like singing Happy Birthday or buying a gift, because that’s what everyone does. Having to use manners because you have been told to, not because you feel you want to. Being made to play sports because it’s a school rule and letting the team down is shameful, or having to obey a parent. A self imposed need to be executed, such as reading an email, finishing a book or eating a meal. Demands are everywhere, and when they have to be done, PDA says ‘run in the opposite direction’.
Q. What does it feel like to have PDA?
A.Does anyone know that song Oops up side your head? Where people throw themselves on the floor and sit in front of each other like they are a boat and all follow a set dance.with their arms. It was a 70s or early 80s phenomena, well, I remember absolutely refusing to join in with that stupid ‘thing’. I remember just thinking, how on earth can all these people be so easily manipulated into joining in without question. Instead, taking the song and making it my own, dancing up and down the isle looking to the people wanting to free them all and make them stand up and dance with me instead. More often, people with PDA have a hardwired response system which says no to following the crowd. In every day situations, life feels like a battle when even the smallest tasks cause the no reflex. These no battles build up and when forced, become toxic. The person with PDA is full up with toxic demands and the residue of battle. The body and mind store the toxins, looking for ways to release.The child behaves in unwanted ways because it’s the effective language to communicate NO. Demand detox can help clear out the unwanted stuff. With clarity and space from other peoples demands, we can see our way to leading the way by saying No to the things that really matter. Like changing the common views of society.
Q. How young is too young for demand removal?
A. Never too young to treat the child as you would a dear friend. If you remember that everything and anything can be a demand, frame everything with kindness and trust.
Q. How can we stay safe if all rules are obsolete?
A. Talk to your child about what rules are and why we have them. See if you can find a place where the child comes to their own conclusion about why we have certain rules. Use the opportunity to create safe rules with your child, so they feel they have control. Allowing your child the freedom to think, rather than have a rule enforced.
Q. How long will it take to see changes?
A. Every child is different. Just like a new radical diet, you may see some big changes immediately and then things may level off. Your child may feel the need to test you and even fight against the new freedom they have been given because it feels unsafe to be in freefall with no demands. Transitions of any kind can be incredibly anxiety provoking, so plenty of reassurance and love will be needed to buffer the sudden changes. When the child learns that they are allowed and able to self manage, the shifts will come. Some people report to taking years to see full results, others can adapt more quickly and report that anxiety was greatly improved as soon as demands were removed. Routine can create safety, freedom and choice within the comfort of routine is a good place to be.
Q. I am not sure what I am doing. What happens if I get it wrong?
A. We are so very conditioned to not trust our own inner guidance systems. Learn to trust yourself and flow with your child, not against them. They will feel your confidence and your doubts, so agreeing to work together will build your relationship and trust with your child. Its OK to have bad days, to feel afraid, to feel alone, to feel emotions full stop. The secret is to own up to them as a team and see your child as your teacher as well as you theirs. Seek out fellow parents who have been where you are and use their support. There is no such thing as getting things wrong, but it is better not to repeat mistakes, so do regular check ins with yourself to monitor your own personal growth. Personal growth on the parent journey is one of the many gifts from PDA.
Q. How can a child know what’s best for them?
A. For the past couple of centuries, we have assumed that adults know best and children are to be taught and molded to a ‘society acceptable standard’ as a result of this conditioned thinking, we have lost the trust that children can learn from observation and their own devices. With PDA demand removal therapy, we have learned that PDA children thrive by being given space and freedom to learn, within sensible non harm boundaries and unconditional love and support from their adults.
Q. How long should I drop demands for and when should we expect to see an improvement in our day to day lives?
A. If you are looking at radical, cold turkey, demand free, then you are best advised to have a plan before going into the program. Your plan should include an open mind as to how long your child will need before they settle into their new environment. Each case will be individual and will depend on how severe or restricted life has become at the point of change. For the most part, I would say at least a year of re settlement. It takes time for everyone involved to change how they speak and how things are deemed as important or not. You could look at it as if your child has toxic demand poisoning, the worse the toxicity, the longer the detox period. For us, we went back to the absolute level bottom. No demands what so ever. When able, we could see when she was ready to be asked things. Today, we take each day as it comes and are fully adaptable as to how much she can cope with. We have spells where we back right off and give her all the space she needs, and we have spells where she is happy to engage and can absorb a lot of requirements/ demands without feeling too much anxiety. You will work it out.
Q. How can I explain to others, why we are allowing our child to have autonomy.
A. You may find that friends and family do not approve or understand why you are behaving in a certain way. I learned that those who did not want to take the time to understand what we were going though, were not worth the worry.
Q. How do I manage when my spouse or the immediate family members do not agree with no demands?
A. A meeting of minds is required to go ahead and remove all demands. Ideally, all that are supporting the child with PDA, should be on the same page. This is not always possible and we have learned that there are often PDA mothers or fathers who have not self identified with PDA. In these situations, PDA strategies to open dialog around best practices for children can be implemented. A non direct approach reaching an agreed way forward. Ie asking questions like, how can we do this, what do you think? I have read. Leaving things out to read about non demand parenting etc etc. It may take some time to agree or prepare for dropping all demands.
Q. If we agree that everything is a demand, what does no demand parenting actually look like?
A. Removing language that is confronting or authoritarian. Questioning our own values and priorities before responding to situations. Setting things up so they are easy and accessible for the child with PDA. Working in silence. Forming a bond where by each other trusts and respects each other and can predetermine where quiet help and assistance might be required, for example, helping the child with the order of things by sticking to a certain routine each day. Doing more than you think might be the norm, like tying shoe laces, putting toothpaste on the brush, or helping them dress. Assisting the person with PDA reduces the amount of demands they have to cope with. What can be achieved one day, might not be possible the next. If the PDA child achieves a task they may feel threatened to repeat it again the next day, deeming it a demand. Flexibility and taking the child’s lead will help.
Q. Will my child ever learn to self manage if I assist them with so many things and ask nothing of them?
A. Yes. They will also be very grateful to you when they are old enough to articulate how much pressure is relieved from them with this style of support. Often, it is not that they are not physically or intellectually unable, it is that they are incapacitated by a brain that doesn’t not allow them to carry out many things that a non PDA brain can do without even thinking. By allowing no demands, you are making space for demands and making space for healing.
Q. What will my child’s’ self esteem be like if I do so much for them?
A. They will feel loved and understand love. If as a parent you can show your child that there is no condition that they are not worthy of love for, they will not have low self esteem. When anxiety is at a level where demands are more accepted, there will be opportunities to increase resilience , but this must always be done respectfully and at the child’s own pace. If your own self esteem is high, you are teaching a child how to self love.
Q.I have been told PDA is the same as all autistic spectrum disorders, why is this approach being used for PDA and not other conditions on the spectrum like Asperger’s Syndrome?
A. Diagnostic guidelines allow PDA to be listed as an additional profile within ASD but as such today, February 2019, PDA is not considered a stand alone condition. Some clinicians will argue that PDA is extreme anxiety within an ASD. There is still a lot of debate around best practices and full understanding of PDA. I write from my personal experience and a gathering of views from the PDA community, here it is established that reducing or removing demands is an agreed method of improving the lives of children and adults with PDA and their families and care givers. It is my belief that the need to say no is a neurological response not a psychological choice. Therefore it makes sense to help the person with PDA and remove the triggers that cause them pain and discomfort.
My personal experience with Demand detox came upon us following a mental breakdown with additional, severe OCD, leaving my then 12 year old daughter unable to leave her bed. We had no choice but to nurse her back from the darkness and it was during this time that I first learnt about PDA. It made perfect sense to me to stop all demands and let my daughter lead her recovery, with me by her side. The advice from the services at that time was not forthcoming. The only suggestions they made over and over again was to force her to face her anxiety until it lessened. It was very clear early on that this just was not going to work for her. I recall one day deciding that it must be me if all the Doctors were saying the same thing, so we embarked on an exposure therapy technique. The outcome was nothing short of horrific and at near death, I vowed never to take that approach again. Over the months that my daughter was ill, we very, very slowly built up her trust in me and herself. If I had not learnt and discovered my own PDA strategies, I dread to think where we would be now, if anywhere at all. Total demand detox was needed to heal. Low demand life is now how we operate. Anyone that comes into or lives, be that teachers, Doctors, or friends, are briefed and expected to come on board with us. If not, we walk away. It’s as simple as that. Learning to think, value and operate on a different plane to the norm takes time, dedication and love. It can be done and it is worth the hard yards. If someone asks me if I wanted life to be different, I just smile and say, not for all the money in the world.
As I always say, it is up to us to show the way with PDA. PDA is, in my opinion, a stand alone condition that is also part of the autism family. There is still a large divide between professional and personal, but the personals are talking to each other every single day, day and night, around the world. From me in New Zealand, across the divide to our neighbors in Australia, the USA, many countries in Europe, the leaders in the UK, and many other countries across the globe. We are united and we are in agreement with the strategies that work and why. In time, PDA will be better understood and respected. It is not an anxiety disorder, or the same as Asperger’s, PDA is a unique mindset belonging to an amazing group of human beings. The ones who are here to change the way things are done. In order to help them, we must allow them. PDA Demand Detox is one way in which we can help uncover the beauty of PDA.
Thanks for supporting my blog. Please share far and wide. x LOVEPDA.