How to Talk to Demand-Avoidant Kids, with Kristy Forbes

Is your child or teen highly sensitive, avoidant, or resistant to the everyday demands of home or school? Often it shows up as tantrums or defiance, but under the surface it may have more to do with a hypersensitive threat detection system in the brain.

Listen as autistic mother, educator, and advocate Kristy Forbes describes Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) and how parents and caregivers can communicate safety and diffuse stress in interactions with resistant kids.


Now we'd love to hear from you. What's bubbling up for you after hearing this vlog? Let us know in the comments section below!


  1. Samantha Smith on July 2, 2021 at 11:24 am

    I have a son with Down Syndrome and ADHD, no official dx of Autism, but definitely on our radar. PDA describes my son exactly. I struggle to find professionals who have experience to help me and always have to figure things out for myself. I am so happy I signed up for the Bright and Quirky seminar this spring as I learned a lot even though my son does not fall in the category presented, it still all related. It makes me sad, I don’t feel like there is a lot resources for kiddo’s that fall into lower IQ category who struggle with communication. My child is still bright, though society would never look at him that way.

    • Jodie on July 2, 2021 at 11:31 pm

      My 21 yr old daughter is also Trisomy 21, and I’m
      100% sure she is also Autistic. Two other daughters recently confirmed Autistic. I so relate to your comments. My other children do not have any intellectual impairment and are bright and quirky…but my eldest is also SO
      Bright! Others mat not see it, as they judge the physical appearance of impairment they see with Down syndrome…but you and I and their loved ones do.

  2. Roberta Braverman on July 2, 2021 at 11:37 am

    Loved learning from Kristy. Thanks for sharing this.
    I will reshare with professionals who are addressing our 2e kids at schools.

  3. Carlin Washburn on July 2, 2021 at 11:41 am

    That was so enlightening and helpful. Thank you so much. I hope to find an autistic mentoring group for my 15 year old in Oregon that could meet in person, in a safe place where she can open up. Thank you again; it helps to know we aren’t alone.

  4. Davis Harte on July 2, 2021 at 12:22 pm

    Wonderful! I gleaned so many tips and ways of knowing to help with my non-autistic Sensory Processing Disorder (suspected) (daughter of a dx Autistic) – as she (and he) both demonstrate PDA. This was so helpful for me. Thank you @Kristy! @Carline – we are in Oregon too. My daughter is 11. “Wired for freedom” yes yes yes!

  5. Cliona on July 2, 2021 at 12:25 pm

    Hello from Ireland ❤ I’m a mother to a beautiful little PDAer, she’s 4. I pulled her out of preschool because it wasn’t a good fit and watching her lead her learning at home has been amazing. She is gifted. So intelligent. Thank you for your description, it’s perfect ❤ We’ve decided to ‘try out’ school in September because the unit sounds promising and I want her to be around children because she adores kids. Not sure if it’ll work so I’m ready to pull her out again when it’s not a good fit for her. Thank you so much xx Best description I’ve heard xx xx

  6. Kim on July 2, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    I have watched this talk a few times now and I love the way Kristy explains things. PDA sounds very much like my son and I am curious in learning more about how to change my language. Thank you.

  7. Charlotte on July 2, 2021 at 1:24 pm

    Great Vlog. I’d love to know more about the relationship between autism (PDA) and ADHD. My daughter is currently on the pathway to diagnosis in the UK. The route is so slow unless you go private and schools are damaging to a child when their neuro development is not recognised or the school fail to listen to concerned parents. I think as we evolve and become knowledgable so should the routes that train teachers – more neurodivergent teachers need to be employed . The whole culture needs to change like Kristy says – the autistic language is so important within neurodivegent community. I totally relate to my daughter. I see so much of myself in her and it has made me question my struggles during my childhood, relationships. learning, my own sensitivities. Acceptance is so important and our children do mask and it so detrimental to their well being . I have learnt so much, thank you.

  8. Reinet Blignaut on July 2, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you so much, I have a school forHFA/ Aspergers students 5 to 18 yrs in South Africa, Wonderfully Made Academy. This has put into words the very way we work, and given the words to why we do what we do. We are very out of the box and do things very differently. Your talk gave me permission to keep on keeping on with my vision for a safe place where they can thrive. These kids are awesome, we are child directed, “unschooling” and curiosity takes us down exciting roads.
    THank you so much for clarifying so much

  9. Teresa Olafson on July 3, 2021 at 6:19 am

    I have researched PDA however Kristy has the best application (real world experience) of this concept to an actual person. It is validating to hear Kristy outline PDA gifts instead of identifying the negative “symptoms”; I am grateful to hear the word “Leader” for this encompasses my child. Placating someone’s innate ability to want to know the “why” behind the request is an adult’s standard interaction with children; leaders do not want to be placated they want to understand and not blindly follow. ND minds are so innately but positively complex beyond NT that we impair their gifts to our society’s detriment and their own. One of the best BQ presentations and I have watched a lot! Thank you for making this a valuable resource for parents, providers, and community stakeholders to gain insight to make our world a better place for all individuals.

  10. Rachel on July 3, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Wow, wow, wow!! This is an actual game changer for me!!! I have a pda daughter on the way to an Autism diagnosis and i have felt broken by her and by the total failure of her school to cater to her needs. Thankyou so much for this. I suddenly feel empowered to parent my child with confidence because i am FINALLY informed!!!

  11. Anna on July 3, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    I am late in getting to this but have honestly found this life-changing. Kristy I could listen to you speak all day.
    This threw me back to a little fellow I supported early in my career when I didn’t know what I didn’t know who had a diagnosis of Autism.
    He used to come to therapy and inadvertently if I greeted him by his name he would have a huge emotional response and would refuse to acknowledge us if we used his name (at the age of 4). He would create other names for himself and would only transition in when we used those instead.
    I am now thinking of all these little things and wondering, could this have been PDA and we as a team just didn’t realise?!
    I would have spoken to him so differently today knowing what I do now and I do genuinely think it could have changed his little world.
    He was SO CLEVER and so creative. Sadly things were often put down to ‘rigidity’ and now I think we certainly had that wrong!
    This is the power of continued learning and discussion.
    Thank you Kristy.

  12. Logan on July 3, 2021 at 6:28 pm

    Thank you, Kristy. A beautiful understanding about PDAers. You have put it so well.

  13. LeeAnn on July 4, 2021 at 8:59 am

    Incredibly helpful, even for my adult son. This explains so much! Thank you!

  14. Brooke Brooks on July 4, 2021 at 9:28 am

    I find phrasing my needs as a damsel in distress allowing my PDAer to be my knight in shining armor. To use your “Could you close the door?” request I would say something like “Oof, I’m feeling chilly from the open door.” Rather than came a request or worse a demand I flip the script to allowing my PDAer see them selves as being a leader in solving someones problem. Of course the problem should be appropriate to the capabilities of the PDAer. Setting them up for little successes, win win.

  15. Julie Parry on July 4, 2021 at 10:48 am

    My 14 year old daughter has been diagnosed with anxiety, ADD, and autism. I was once told by a psychologist that my child was “rude”. However, I know that she is a very kind, polite, and thoughtful child. I’m hoping that more research and education on PDA is done and that more health professionals and educators become aware. I would love to find some of these supportive networks in Canada.

  16. Tara on July 4, 2021 at 5:44 pm

    So validating – Thank you! I’m a speech pathologist with two amazing and autistic daughters. My youngest is 7 and was recently given an ADHD diagnosis too. She definitely has the same PDA experiences you describe and I’ve spent years working out on my own that she physically cannot do the things that she perceives are demands. With an emotionally abusive father, who I have been separated from for 5 years now, and grandparents on his side with the same abusive ways, I feel like I’ve been yelling into the abyss for years when I’ve tried to share what I know about the emotional support that she and her sister need to these other ‘care givers’ and I’ve simply been getting empty echoes back, with condescending and dismissive sneers towards me thrown in. They come from a long line of yelling and hard discipline parenting. I see the flight. I see the fighting. And I definitely see the fawning. Sigh. It’s been a long, hard and very dark road at times. But now discovering you, your community – plus others like Brene Brown and the amazing Gabor Mate (his book The Scattered Mind has been a true revelation for me) I have hope, I feel my journey is understood and most importantly my daughter’s journeys can be understood by others too. Thank you, thank you, thank you ❤❤❤

  17. Diane on July 16, 2021 at 5:55 am

    Thanks for this. Hearing Kristy rang so many bells in my own life that made me realise I almost certainly am a PDAer as much as my daughter is. And my daughter is fabulous and definitely a leader and just needs the freedom to be who she is and learn her way. When we can get schools to realise these kids aren’t “difficult” they’re amazing and interested and interesting people who just need to be partnered to learn THEN we might have an education system worth its salt!

  18. Margaret Chadwick on August 18, 2021 at 4:59 pm

    OMG Kristy you are wonderful. I’m logging into “Intune pathways ” you just make so make sense. Your examples of talking to your children have helped me more than any departmental PD. Thank you

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