The Principles of a No Demand or Low Demand Approach & How it has worked for Us.

My son is diagnosed with ASD but fits the criteria for PDA (pathological demand Avoidence) an little known or recognised condition on the autism specturm. For more information on PDa visit the PDA society website: https://www.pdasociety.org.uk/

It all started two summers ago when attending a PDA workshop and the speaker said at one point that in time of really extreme anxiety a ‘no demand’ strategy may need to be implemented.

This was where my son was but this approach sounded radical, it went against everything I understood about being a ‘good’ parent. I was however desperate, I could see my child slipping away and taking me with him so I decided to give it a try…After all what did I have left to lose?

My son was at this point unable to attend school or often the interventions they had put in place as an alternative. Actually most days he was barely able to leave his room, hold a conversation, take any interest in anything and spent many hours a day staring at the ceiling, He had violent meltdowns and often talked many times about wanting to die. He was barely eating or sleeping. It was just before this I had brought him the hamster as detailed in my previous blog.

So I went home thinking about no demands….I had lots of questions, lots of worries and lots of doubts about how this could work. So I stop asking my son to eat or bath or do anything? I just stop being a Mum? What will people think or say or what of I am accused of neglect?

I began to realise that not demanding anything was going to be hard and that demands came in many forms. I also realised that it would not be a case of not doing anything but actively and consciously taking away the demands that I was placing on my child. It took me a few months to put this into place fully although I did reduce demands significantly. The catalyst came when he was physically sick with anxiety about going to interventions as I described in my last blog and I realised things had to really change so finally decided to implement no demands.

I went to see my son in his room, I told him I understood that I had been putting a lot of pressure on him to do things because I cared but I was going to stop that now as I realised that it wasn’t because he wouldn’t but because he couldn’t. He cried and confirmed he really couldn’t and we had a hug. That was step one.

Step two was about me letting go of everything that was not necessary and most of all ditching what society had taught me about what being a good parent was parent and how people might react to me no longer conforming to that. I put on my big girl pants, pulled them up high and prepared to suck up whatever was thrown at me.

What I stopped doing

I stopped asking my 10 year old son to bath or brush his hair or eat or telling him when to go to bed. I stopped demanding please and thank you, be good, talk to relatives. I excepted that I would need to shop online, restrict visitors to the house, and not go out and leave my son with anyone else for a while. There are so many hidden and more subtle demands we place on our children or things we consider as ‘essentials’ which are not really that at all. I must add of course that my son was 10 and that what is ‘really essential’ differs across age groups.

What I did (without expectation)

  • I put out clean clothes in the morning and pyjamas at night.
  • I ran a bath each night and told him ‘there is a bath run, if you would like it’
  • I put toothpaste on his toothbrush and told him I had.
  • I took food to his room and placed it near him. Often wrapped foods he could eat any time rather than meals or home baking that smelt good. I steered away from strong smelling foods and never asked him to eat or commented if he had or hadn’t I just took uneaten food away.
  • I made regular contact with him but kept talking to a minimum unless he instigated conversation. I regularly let him know he was loved as he was and not on condition of what he did.
  • I ensured his Dad (from whom I am seperated) was on the same page and explained that my son needed to be in control of visits.
  • I told him the time at bed time ie ‘its 9 o’clock now, there are pyjamas there if you want them.’ Without ever telling him to go to bed.
  • I lifted all screen restrictions.
  • I listened to him and respected his wishes when he offered them.

What happened next

  • In the first few days – He started coming down when the house was quiet and lurking about after a couple of weeks he would come and sit quietly on the sofa with me. I acted normal and did not comment on this as an unusual even.
  • He started showing me things and playing with his toys, which he would hide when I came in. Again it was important that I did not comment.
  • Three weeks in he tided his room and came down to tell me.
  • 4 (smelly) weeks in he used the bath I ran and brushed his teeth once a day.
  • He started eating more over the next few weeks.
  • 8 weeks in he started telling me it was 9 o’clock, time for bed and changing into his pyjamas.
  • 10 weeks in he started talking to me about wanting to be home educated and not returning to school or interventions. I derigistered him from school
  • By 4 months in his was bathing once or twice a week and washing his hair and changing his clothes, he was wearing his PJ’s at night and was begining to engage with home education. He was showing interest in his lego and youtube again and was able to go out on occassions.
  • We went on a caravan holiday and a trip to Legoland.
  • By 8 months he was fully engaged with home ed, bathing three days a week, changing his clothes regularly and able to cope with the odd visitor.
  • We had to move house at 8 months which set him back for a while but he settled after about 3 months and the improvements began again.
  • 12 months in, he visted his dad regularly and stayed overnight.
  • He asked for more demanding work in home ed.
  • 17 months in. Something changes everyday for the better, This week alone he has been shopping for clothes with his dad, he has started playing the guitar again, he is seeking out company for most of the day, he is engaging in research about his family tree and walking the dog. He brought and paid for a birthday gift for me.

In short today my son is a sensitive and often anxious almost 12 year old who is also happy, engaged, social, polite, and interested, he self cares, bathes everyday, wears a variety of clothes and has his own style. He chooses not to cut his hair but keeps it washed and brushed. He goes to the dentist regularly and cares for his own teeth. His room is normally the tidiest room in the house, all I have to do is put the hoover around it.

He has his own interests which he engages with me about. We share quality time together and apart. He actively engages with his own education, suggests topics and things he would like to learn more about or improve upon. He still has days when he doesn’t wish to go out because he needs to recharge and days when he can not cope with visitors to the house and I still respect this. The PDA has not just ‘gone away’ and there are still days when he finds things more difficult and so I need to keep this in mind and make adjustments accordingly. If my son says no to something then I accept that always.

We talk and we share and we make the effort to understand each other and work collaboratively and as a result I have never felt the need to implement demands again or to push or to stretch him as is recommended in many autism strategy theories. I trust him to do what he can when he can. He is doing everything he needs to do as a child and I am doing everything I actually need to do as his parent, ie supporting, nurturing and understanding.

These days future seems bright to us both.

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33 thoughts on “The Principles of a No Demand or Low Demand Approach & How it has worked for Us.

  1. That is awesome and good on you. Now to get the mental health professionals to understand our side as parents and the rest of the world to understand . I my self have seen small changes with my own son who is 9 and a half and does 2 morning a week in school which is currently to much. As a parent we get pressured and pushed into doing things that we know is hurting our kids but society and professionals expect it . I as a parent am proud of what you’ve done and its stuff lime this that helps with the courage and strength to see it through regardless of what others think . So thank you .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much and I hope our story will give others the strength to go with what they see working with their child. I hope your son finds the right environment for him to thrive in education which I know can be so hard. For us home education became the only choice but one which suits him well. Thanks for reading and all the best to you and your son.

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  2. I worked with my son 9 months ago and after 3 months(he had autistic burnout)breakdown) he was back to his happy much less anxious self.Its nice to read other parents truly tuning into their child and recognising ‘cant’ instead of seeing ‘wont.’ I hope your both still in a good place x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank Sonia. Yes life is so much better and little steps forward happen everyday. I love to see my son smiling and laughing. I am so pleased to read about your sons recovery too. x

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  3. I absolutely love this post. You guys are a perfect example of exactly what no demands means. Thank you for writing such an excellent piece. I’ve also commented on Notes with PDA page too. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aw thanks so much. It is a scary idea to set in motion but once you do it, it just makes so much sense.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Brilliant, it’s so great to hear about the progress made. You know I get all this – our girl still only brushes her teeth once a day, and sometimes not at weekends, but that’s better than not at all! Happy for you that you’ve seen big changes x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Steph. You are so right, celebrate the things that do happen.

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  5. Thank you for challenging my thinking. I am an autism Consultant as well as mum of three autistic teens one with ADHD. To be honest my heart sank when I read you took food to your son, as we too had done this with our son (ADHD) . We realised what we had done and soon broke the cycle, however the big difference here was my son didn’t want to eat as he just wanted to game. He was more then able to move from his room when asked. That is the big difference, children with PDA have such high anxiety that they really can’t manage some tasks.

    Every child is different and every parent is trying to do their best, as a professional I take from this that more often then not mum does know best and we need to be far more supportive so positive mental health can be top priority for everyone.

    I shall be sharing your blog on my page.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Cheryl for your comments and the share. You raise some good points and I think there are differences in any autistic persons personality (same as any one else), as well as type of the presentation of the autism and the mental health of autistic each child/at different times in their life. Many in my family are autistic each needs a different approach for the individual and each has fluctuations in what they can and can not cope with at different times. My son was very much in crisis when I implemented no demands and often comes down to eat these days, I know he does when he can and accept if he doesn’t it is because he can’t. Building trust, collaboration and communications between parent and child or child and educator is the key to it all I believe. The child is the real expert but parents can be experts at understanding what their child is asking/getting them to communicate it. Thank you so much for reading with an open mind.

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    2. Do feel free to leave the link to your blog page, I would love to take a look.

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  6. Michelle Wilson Jun 23, 2018 — 9:42 pm

    Can I ask if you have other children and how they reacted to this?

    Did you use it for only one, or for all?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a really good thing to bring up and something I have thought about a lot. I only have one child so this has never been an issue for me. I think if I had more than one I would use collaborative strategies for all my children regardless just because having started down this road respectful parenting just feels right. However as I will not be having any more children it is speculative and I know reading the experiences of others it can be difficult to balance the different needs of siblings.

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  7. Thanks so much for this post. Do you have any suggested websites or books on the no demand or low demand approach? Thanks and all the best to you and your son.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Michelle I would recommend Dr Ross Greenes ‘The Explosive child’ which is not specifically low demands but is collaborative approaches to children. LovePDA was a similar approach to mine and writes here on WordPress. The PDA society has lots of useful info and also runs regular workshops across the uk (which is where I first heard of this approach) you can find them here https://www.pdasociety.org.uk/. The approach is very similar to unschooling on which there are loads of books and also Facebook pages if you type unschooling into the search bar on fab many will come up and you can speak to like minded people or even meet up. Stephs two girls is another blog about PDA with similar approaches and she also has a Facebook page. Hope this helps.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Oh wow, for the first time I can actually use your experience as a forward moving tool for my Miss 8. I actually feel like there is hope. I have just stopped interventions, started seeing a new psych who is PDA educated (am in Australia) and after this last school suspension maybe if I try what you have, I may be able to have the mental support for myself to home school her.
    Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Heather, thank you for commenting and i am so delighted I have given you hope, this is why I write my experiences. It takes time so be patient and believe is my advice, I have a counsellor for myself so I have someone to talk to about things but to be honest my life is so much easier now even with having my son at home all day because he is happy and the meltdowns just don’t happen, if he is anxious we talk about it or he takes some space. Life is so completely different to how it was two years ago. Best of luck with making the change to low demands, i have know many other parents it has also worked for.

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  9. What an amazing post! You’ve explained the difficulties so well. I struggle with letting go of what is accepted/expected of you as a parent yet, when you do, it has such a dramatic impact. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Thank you so much for posting this, it’s incredibly inspiring and has given me hope!
    I’d like to know, in your opinion, how this would work for a child who sits on the computer all day and, without demands, would stay there all night? The only demand I have is to come upstairs to bed each night. She is 11. Thank you x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My son did this for a long time and it is very common form of self regulation for autistic children. I just stopped worrying about it and left him to it for a couple of months, then I started taking an interest, we played games together and googled things and watched YouTube and sent each other links and recommended links. We enjoyed spending time together in his terms in other words. I had no screen restricts and stopped vocalising judgement about how much time he spent. This built trust, this meant he started seeking me out to do things with me both computer and non computer related. Over time he started to enjoy my time more than computer time. He still has no screen restrictions and spends one to two hours a day on screens which is significantly less than his peers. I can’t promise this would work for everyone but it worked for us.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We do share gaming and youtube together, maybe I should take the leap and withdraw the bedtime… it’s scary!
        Thank you so much.

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      2. It is scary. If it helps I asked my son what he thought would be a good time to go to bed and then I told him at that time/said good night. He is 12 and at the moment he has chosen 10pm and gets into bed then and is asleep between 11 and 12. At 10 I just say it’s 10 o’clock and he has a glass of water I bring up so I give him that a hug and put his pjs out while he brushes his teeth and leave him to it. When he first stopped school he was barely sleeping and full of anxiety and was in my room several times a night crying. It takes time and a great deal of belief in your child wanting to do things and they really do and will in their own time, in their own way. Good luck and feel free to message me on my fab page if you are having any wobbles.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have a PDA 10yrs old boy and I concur with everything you have said/done. It has also worked wonders here too but over a longer time frame. Some areas are still coming together and self directed education has been invaluable. Peter Gray’s book Free To Learn was a major turning point for me. I use l demand, consensual, respectful parenting for both my kids and it works brilliantly for both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and reply. I am glad to hear a similar approach has supported your son, well done you for finding and implementing it. I love to hear that parents have found the key to support their child. ❤️

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