How To Tell Your Kid They’re PDA

autism neurodiversity pda practical tips Feb 08, 2023


Parents often imagine that one conversation will change everything for their child, like dropping a truth bomb right at the heart of their child's self identity. In my personal experience and journey with my clients, it rarely evolves this way. Younger children are typically uninterested initially. Teens have resistance and fear. So think of this as a series of conversations, an unfolding, a process. Being PDA is life-changing, but finding out from your parents is typically not the moment that this beautiful reality suddenly unfurls in their life.


This "bigger tent" identity was important for us since one of my children identifies as non-PDA autistic, and the other as PDA-autistic. We shared that they each have a rare brain that processes differently, called autistic. We talked about the sensory experience of having a really sensitive and attuned body--noticing when things are overwhelming or overstimulating. We shared that autistic people make connections that other people can't see and think outside the box: “Wow, that is so cool the way your autistic brain just thought of something that I bet other people never would in a million years!”


My PDAer loves hearing stories about neurotypical brains in their ordinariness and him in his uniqueness. He'll ask: “What do other people do?” and I'll say, “Other people like to do what everybody else does. They just look around and say, ‘What everybody else does must be right for me!’” He'll belly laugh, and then say, “What do I do?” I say, “You make your own path. You decide what's right for you. You are always seeking a new way, something nobody's ever tried before.” He loves this, building confidence and grounding in being PDA.


As you unfold this new identity, you always want to preserve your PDAer's autonomy and freedom. They are free to accept or reject this label. They can come up with their own name. They can explore the meaning on their own, in their own way. Pressure to "accept" this label will activate their nervous system and make them perceive the identity itself as unsafe. Even explore your own energy around this identity. Are you convinced that it will help the meltdowns? Teach them regulation skills? The "fix it" energy will also register as unsafe.


Notice your child's own language, the way they narrate their experience of demand avoidance, of challenge and of thriving. What words do they use to tell you to back off on demands? My son says “forcing”: “You can't make me!” “I feel like you're forcing me!” So we’ll say, “Your PDA brain is saying you're forcing me, and your body is feeling forced.” Importantly, we are a low demand family, so my son knows that we have a family rule, "We don't force each other." Naming this as a PDA reality calms his nervous system, knowing that we respect and listen to his PDA brain as it speaks.


There's a very important piece to telling your child their PDA: if you're going to share about their brain, be ready for the fact that this information can be really empowering and that our kids can (and deserve to) have a lot of control in our family dynamic. By saying “Hey this is how your brain works,” then they may turn it around and say, “This is how my brain works! You need to listen to me!” And they might be right.

An empowered PDAer is a beautiful and a fearsome thing.


Does your child have friends and playmates who are PDA? Do they have access to YouTube channels and books and mentors who are PDA? Are you being taught by PDA adults as you are formed in your understanding of your child?

PDA is not just an identity. It's a culture. Creating thriving PDA culture in your home and in our world depends on our ability to show up fully ourselves, unmasked. Connect your child to as many PDAers as you can, so they can experience and develop their own PDA culture.


The goal of telling your child about their PDA identity is to empower them with self-knowledge, to connect them to supportive community, and to ground them in a wider family and culture of neurokin. It is not to control them or make them easier to manage. Respect their language and their timing as they incorporate this identity in their own way. If you see signs that it makes them feel unsafe, it is presenting as a demand, so back off. You can trust this process and trust your child.

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