One of the key strategies I learned regarding helping my son with his pathological demand avoidance came from blogger Riko at Riko’s Blog

framing demands so as to give the child the appearance of control while the parent actually maintains control and the demand is met

We offered the Navigator choices in almost every arena, from when he got out of bed, to the order in which he took care of his hygiene needs, to when he did his lessons and his chores.

Frequently this meant I was offering him choices between two things he did not want – to complete his lessons or to not have screen time; to complete his dinner or to not have dessert.

Despite how matter-of-factly I presented the choices, he still saw through the strategy and experienced frustration and demand anxiety.

I might have been tempted to eliminate all demands so as to eliminate his anxiety, but as Riko very clearly described it, there is no such thing as a demand-free environment:

For PDA people however, everything is a demand. Whether it’s something that someone else has asked of them or whether it’s something they think is expected without any outside inference. Whether it’s something unpleasant or something pleasant that they’d love. Whether it’s something truly difficult such as exams or something simple such as standing up.

Even being expected not to do something is a demand. The way we do things are demands. Even things that are essential and come naturally to everyone are demands, like breathing and eating. Everything, even things you’d never consider in a million years are demands to a PDA person. It’s just the way our brains work.

While I might choose among demands after taking into consideration a number of factors (his stress level, how much time we have for the demand avoidance, how necessary the demand is) something I realized as he got older was that offering him more challenging choices sometimes made previously stressful demands less stressful.

Sometimes when I gave him harder choices, choices outside of his normal decision-making, it expanded his experience and made him a little more comfortable with other demands.

One example took place when he started music classes at his school, and we needed to rent an instrument from a local music store. He had to come too because the store needed to correctly size the instrument for him.

He was anxious about leaving the house and how far we had to drive to get his instrument, so I gave him a choice:

  1. We could keep traveling to the store I had called and knew they had the instrument we needed; or
  2. He could call a closer store and ask them while I drove.

The choice between conversing with a stranger or traveling the longer distance.

He was chagrined. He tried to talk me into making the call – I explained that I could not use the phone while I was driving.

“You decide which one you want to do,” I said. “You can do this, and it is ok with me whatever choice you make. There is no wrong decision.”

He decided to call the closer store, and unfortunately it was closed.

But the rest of the day was smoother for him, and I believe that the experience of deciding to make the call and facing the anxiety of that choice served to make other more routine demands easier for him.

When I later asked him what he thought, he agreed that was a plausible explanation.

Increasing Challenging Choices


  1. Autism mom…this may not be for all of our autism sons…but as they get older…mine is 20,,, and they do have emotions like other kids…..stubbornness…anxiety always present with these other emotions though…they do get a little more maturity …..mine is 20 but still about emotionally maybe 14 in some ways but in some ways he is more mature than my husband of 61….I think it is safe to say…some of your struggles will decrease….remember what is was like when he was smaller….no or few language skills….remember the meltdowns then….and how hard it was to learn the sensory issues then!!!!!! God bless it now….because I have learned to actually treat him not like a kid…..like my mothe always called me her baby and see him as an adult in many ways…he doesn’t struggle with me offering few choices…..but I still let him know there are ground rules…he lives in mine and my husband’s house. As an adult if he doesn’t like the rules he has a choice…..just like my parents gave me…that is not treating him different…that is treating him equal.

    • You raise such an excellent point, Sandra – navigating our way through what is kid, what is Autism, and making sure we change our parenting to reflect their developing maturity. It is nice to “see” you again! Hoping you are well. 🙂

  2. There are always times throughout life where either choice is difficult, so we weigh them up and go with the one that seems best at the time. It is great your son is learning to do the same in a safe environment.

  3. That’s excellent that he was able to make the phone call. Sounds like you handled the situation brilliantly. That’s very clever to offer a more difficult choice along with the one that was required, I would have chosen the longer journey over the phone call lol he did really well. Did you get the instrument in the end?

  4. Thank you for identifying a very important technique to expanding reasonable decision skills. My daughter is now 23 and while in special education public schools she and most others were treated like babies and were given the easiest of choices, which creates narrow outlook and promotes depression and isolation.I can see how being given challenging decisions would enforce self esteem, a broader outlook on life and help develop the skills for communication and problem solving. Thanks again for explaining simplicity of teaching skills.

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