PDA: An Anxiety Driven Need To Be In Control? But What Do We Mean By Anxiety?

The current view of PDA; as an anxiety driven need to remain in control, certainly echoes in our family.  

The pursuit of more knowledge throughout this journey has been part of my own need to feel more in control.  This has driven me to explore some of the many questions around PDA.  One of these questions is around the anxiety driven aspect. 

Anxiety has many and varied presentations, some of which are invisible, many of which are misunderstood.  We sometimes refer to anxiety as though it’s definition is a universally accepted truth.  But anxiety can be seen in many forms and the way we understand it, makes a big difference to how insightful and compassionate we are in navigating it.

When we look at anxiety through a Polyvagal lens, it becomes much clearer and for me the most fully applicable to PDA. 

Through a Polyvagal lens, anxiety is; an overactive neuroception system. 

Overactive or highly sensitive neuroception is not faulty cognition, it is a filter through which information is sent from the body to the brain.  It powerfully determines which autonomic pathway is activated and this determines the response that is generated.  When we talk about differently wired brains and start to become really curious about the neuroscience of PDA, we come face to face with how a brain wired for protection can present.

Protective responses in the form of the Five Fs, have been set out in one of my earlier articles here:

This article is just the tip of the iceberg though.  In it, I explored how the nervous system is constantly working hard in the background, out of our awareness, determining our autonomic state and how this is governed by what Stephen Porges refers to as Neuroception; our nervous system’s threat detection system.  I hypothesised that highly sensitive Neuroception may be at the heart of PDA, which I absolutely believe it to be.  The narrative only covers the very early stages of this area of enquiry however, and needs to be quite considerably expanded in order to present all of the layers required for a neurobiological formulation of PDA.

To build such a formulation, we need to explore and understand the autonomic nervous system in greater depth and the way it relates to Autism and PDA.  One of the key benefits of doing this, is that it allows us to start to build a respectful friendship with our own autonomic nervous system.  This then crucially allows us to see, feel and experience the relationship between our own nervous system and another’s.  

Understanding how our own nervous system communicates with our child’s, can be and for us has been, transformational.  I am working away on writing about just this, something that is a much more detailed piece of work, and I am really excited to be able to share this with you in the near future.

As this progresses, I will keep updating my Facebook page with small quotes that will be part of this piece of work as well as continuing to share others work with you. 💛



I will also leave you with a copy of some of my earlier, non wordpress published thoughts about PDA:


In mainstream society our personal freedom, autonomy and agency is threatened every day, many times a day. This happens even more frequently for children.  For those with an anxiety driven need for control, some of these ‘threats’ are packaged in the form of everyday demands.

Demands is a very broad term that needs to be unpacked.

The PDA Autistic response to demands is akin to a person’s survival response to fear and places them firmly in a neuroception of threat.

Understanding the Autonomic Nervous system (ANS) is so important in helping us to care for, parent and educate our children more effectively.

The information that is sent from our body to our brains is affected by sensory processing differences;  interoception and exteroception challenges.  Exploring and understanding these is an essential part of understanding PDA.

There is so much more to PDA though, many characteristics that remain overshadowed by the PDAers pervasive avoidance of everyday demands.  These include:

A PDAers ability to hyper focus, to become a master of their interests, to role play, to find their own ways of regulating as they develop and mature, to negotiate, influence, lead, inspire, motivate others, be creative, are but a few of the many wonderful aspects of the PDA Autistic identity.

The key to parenting a child with PDA is to seek change in ourselves, as parents. This includes understanding our own nervous system and better regulating it first.

For our PDA Autistic children to feel safe, it is our responsibility to stop expecting the child to change and start parenting, caring and educating differently. #ParadigmShift


By changingthenarrativeaboutautism

Author: Integrative Counsellor, BSc (Hons) Psychology.

Neurodivergent Mother, passionate about the acceptance and respectful treatment of neurodivergent children and adults.

My personal experience, relationship and connection with my son, provides me with a depth of insight into PDA. Our family's lived experience and love for our son, has driven me to research and write about PDA.

In addition to this lived experience, which I am very gradually making sense of, my professional background supports my ability to critically reflect and make sense of some of the strengths and difficulties we face.

My career started in 1999, when I graduated with a 2:1 BSc Hons Psychology degree. As a graduate I worked in a residential care setting for Adults with Autism and Learning Disabilities. I went onto complete a further three years Integrative Counselling training and then later; two years clinical psychology training. My clinical experience includes working for the NHS, Action for Children and Relate:

For the NHS, I worked in a University Hospital Psychology and Counselling service, a Community Mental Health Team, a Parenting Team and a Community Neuro Rehabilitation Team.

For Action for Children, I worked in a Leaving Care Team, and in a residential care setting for Looked After Children.

For Relate, I worked in the young people's service providing therapy to children facing a range of difficulties from trauma, loss and separation to depression, anxiety and self-harm.

I first developed my interest in Neuroscience as an undergraduate. I connected more fully with this during my time working as a trainee alongside a very inspiring Neuropsychologist in a Community Neuro Rehabilitation team. My passion for neuroscience became even more valuable to me, when I became a parent.

The Polyvagal Theory, in particular, has been central in helping me to develop a deeper understanding of PDA.

This led me to hypothesise and write about the relationship between neuroception and PDA in my article “Highly Sensitive Neuroception May Be at The Heart of PDA”.

I hope you find this site helpful and I thank you for your participation and feedback.