I’m asked frequently by both parents and teachers about ways to engage young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance. These are my top tips:
Special Interests Are Your Best Friend
Spending time engaging in special interests is relaxing, it doesn’t feel like work. The more you can engage with a young person around their interests, the more successful your interactions will be. If they love Halloween, why not ask them about decorations they would like to make. Or perhaps they have a passion for video games, in which case why not sit and develop a plot for a new game, or design an additional level for their favourite one. The key is to think about an objective you want to achieve and then to think about how you can do that via the young person’s interest, rather than to predefine a specific task.
Gradual Shifts Work Best
For young people who struggle with demands integrating those tasks seamlessly is key. Engaging them takes careful thought, and and any suggestions need to be made at the right time ideally in a way that looks as if you have just thought of them as a direct result of what has been said. A large jump, even if that is from one special interest to another is unlikely to work well.
Ultimatums Rarely Work
Ultimatums such as, ‘if you don’t do this then…’ are rarely successful with young people with Pathological Demand Avoidance. Whilst low key, well thought out, reward schemes can sometimes be successful careful analysis is required. Anything that makes the request appear more like a demand is going to add to a child’s anxiety levels and therefore make it harder not easier for them to engage.
Give Suggestions Not Demands
Think carefully about how you phrase your requests, making suggestions or coming up with ideas together is much more likely to be met with success than giving demands from on high. Often it’s how you ask, rather than what you ask that is the real key to achieving engagement – and that’s something that as adults we can definitely all change.
Avoid Strategies Like My Time Your Time
The real key to engagement is creating a relationship that works. Artificial concepts like my time and your time can reinforce the fact that you are demanding a young person deviates from the things they really want to do. Co-operation is key. If a young person is struggling to engage, showing them that engagement can be enjoyable by achieving it on their terms in the first instance is far more likely to achieve the results you are looking to get, than enforcement.
Patience Is Key
Engagement won’t happen instantly, and with some young people even taking onboard your best suggestions will take a significant amount of time and effort on your part. The key is to persevere, remain patient and above all to show the young person that you really do want to engage with them in a way that works for them.
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If you do want to learn more you might find our autism section a useful place to start. It’s full of different strategies to try out.
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