Autism For Parents Interviews Mental Health Podcasts

Raising a PDA Child with Low Demand Parenting with Amanda Diekman

amanda diekman pda
On today's episode, I'm talking with Amanda Diekman, who is an ordained Presbyterian pastor, autistic contemplative, and parent of an autistic and PDA child. We will be talking about:
  • Amanda's experience self-identifying as autistic as an adult and going through her diagnosis process, versus her experience advocating for her young son's diagnosis, treatment, and finding support
  • What PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance/ Pervasive Drive toward Autonomy) looks like and Amanda's experience parenting a PDA child
  • What other accommodations and resources are helpful for folks learning about the PDA profile of autism
  • Amanda's parenting approach, low demand parenting, how it works, and how you can learn more about it

🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 49 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube

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Show Notes:

Further Learning:

I strongly recommend the following books for parents of PDA children:

PDA Resources Recommended by Amanda Diekman:


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Transcript of Raising a PDA Child with Low Demand Parenting with Amanda Diekman

(Transcribed by the amazing Justice Ross, thank you!)

SULLIVAN: Hello and welcome back to the Neurodiverging podcast! I'm Danielle Sullivan, I am your host, and I am so pleased you're here with us today. Today we’ll be talking Amanda Diekman about her experience with autism diagnosis as an adult, and her experience raising her neurodivergent family, particularly a son with the PDA profile of autism.

Before we get to that, I just want to thank my patrons for supporting this podcast. The podcast runs on patron donations. If you are interested, please check out patreon.com/Neurodiverging, where you can find out more about how to pledge to the Neurodiverging podcast to keep us running, keep us in business, and to get some very excellent behind-the-scenes perks. The Patreon is patreon.com/Neurodiverging, and pledges start at just $1 a month!

And a quick plug for the website at Neurodiverging.com, where you can find articles about neurodivergent issues, full transcriptions of the podcast, and a list of upcoming events I’m hosting, the vast majority of which are free or low-cost. I do monthly webinars, host support groups, and teach classes, so come join us!

Now let me tell you about our guest. Amanda Diekman is an ordained Presbyterian pastor, spiritual director, and autistic contemplative. She lives with her husband and three boys in the North Street community, an intentional residential community with neighbors of all abilities in Durham, NC. You can find her writing at www.amandadiekman.net and on Instagram at simple.soulful.amanda. I know you’ll love this interview - enjoy!

Amanda's Adult Autism Diagnosis Story

SULLIVAN: Welcome to Neurodiverging Podcast, Amanda, I'm so happy you're here today!

DIEKMAN: Thank you!

SULLIVAN: How are you doing?

DIEKMAN: I am great. I'm thrilled to be here.

SULLIVAN: I'm so excited that you're here. Amanda works in low-demand parenting, which is my favorite approach to parenting, though I think the terminology you use is not something I was familiar with before we started talking. But sounds very similar to what we do in our household, so I'm really excited to talk to you about it today.

So you're a late-identified autistic, you work in PDA, which we'll talk about a lot, and you have 2 kiddos, is that right?

DIEKMAN: I have 3.

SULLIVAN: 3! Wow. Congratulations.

SULLIVAN: 2 is enough for me, but that's hopefully a happy, busy household. (Laughs)

DIEKMAN: (Laughs) Yes, those are true words for us. We are happy, we are busy, wild -

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: - and a lot of spontaneous joy.

SULLIVAN: Yes. That sounds beautiful. That sounds a lot like our house too, which is great.

So I know you were a late-identified autistic, right? And I was wondering if you could tell... We've had several guests, and I have a lot of coachees also, women and queer folks who were identified after their kiddos were identified, and many of us were identified pretty late in our 30s, 40s, and up. And as one of them, I'd love to hear your story about that. I know it really helps listeners feel like they're not alone when we're all identified so late and missed over. So what was it like for you to be identified later in life as an adult, and how did you come to that identification?

DIEKMAN: Well, it's helped me so much to hear other people's stories; it's really an honor to share mine, because the way through is often, for me, through stories and through storytelling. And in some ways, the beginning for me is the stories I told myself when I was a kid about who I was and how I learned to survive in the world. I was a very bright, a very opinionated, and, eventually, a very perfectionist child; one of the ways that I learned to cope with the world was by getting everything right.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And I believed that, if I got everything right, then I could rest, and then I could be a part of the world.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And I struggled with that narrative for all of my growing up years and used it, channeled it into schoolwork and into friendships. I worked so hard. And the effort, I think, is one of the things that I look back on and I see just how hard I was working to do the things that the world was taking for granted. And no one saw just how much churning was happening inside of me to show up and be missed, basically.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: When I first heard about autism, I was beginning to work with autistic adults who needed more support in social engagements, and I became a friend to a lot of people who needed a little bit of handholding, and I felt so comfortable and alive and myself in those settings. And I just attributed it to, like, oh my gosh, what a great gift these adults have to offer to the world! These are such gifted people who are being ignored, and wow, how wonderful it is that I get to be in their presence. And now, again, when I look back, I realize, oh, something was coming to life in me because I was doing a "Me too! Me too! Me too!" kind of moment.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And I didn't know it then. And eventually, I became chair of the board of this organization that was pairing up people for pizza and dance parties and all kinds of things. And I didn't know. Throughout my 8 years of chairing the board, I didn't know that I was autistic. So it was only when I began investigating for my son, who is 7, that I did my own deep dive into autism, and I think this is familiar for a lot of people's stories. I can now see I was completely autistic, and the way that I - (Laughs) (Unintelligible)

SULLIVAN: (Laughs)

DIEKMAN: (Unintelligible) I couldn't get enough. I read and I read and I read and I read. It was like my brain was spinning at a faster pace than it had in years—and probably actually was, on a brain level. And I had to do a lot of digging and a lot of work because my son's profile didn't fit the standard. And so, what I was looking at, I was like, "I'm sure that this fits, but I have to deconstruct everything if I'm gonna understand the way that he fits." And in the process, I discovered that I fit. I think if I'd had a child with a more classic presentation of autism, I might've been missed as well.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: Because it was only when I looked at, "Ok, well what's the actual mechanism?" — not "Are they lining things up" but "Why are you lining things up? What's that about?" — that I could see, "Oh, so when I went into my mom's office and compulsively organized all of her paperclips into tiny compartments, I was doing the same thing. I was making sense of the world and fulfilling a need that I had."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: So. When I was 38, I had my own diagnostic experience just 3 months after my 7-year-old went through his.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: His experience was at Duke Autism Center, very official, very clinical, cold, very anxiety-producing for me. And mine was over Zoom, in my room, in my rocking chair, with my husband by my side, with an autistic ADHD woman who was as brilliant and professional as those Duke Autism people but a completely different approach.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Yeah.

DIEKMAN: She believed me from the start, she helped me retrace my journey, she opened up things that I had never considered before. I hadn't realized so much about how my brain works until she started asking me just the right questions, and it unleashed so much self-awareness. It's been a year since then, and truly one of the most amazing years of my life, to know who I am, to finally belong to the right group. I think I finally stopped working so hard.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And there was a settling inside me as I now said, ooh, I don't want to be that person, the person I wanted to be for 37 years. I want to be this person.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And now I feel like, in another 30 years, I'm gonna be so much more whole than I've been ever before, as this identity can sink deeper, and the masks come off, and the insides match the outsides.

SULLIVAN: That sounds a lot like my experience of just, as you say, settling into it, that it can be so much stress we put ourselves under, and so much pressure to conform to neurotypical standards of the greater society, and then once you have that group identification, it's like, "Oh! I'm allowed to just be!" And I really love that in 30 years. Because I also look forward to, "In another 10 years, I'll be even more of me!" Right? Even, like, more saturated Danielleness.

DIEKMAN: Yes! (Unintelligible) saturated, that's a great word.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.

DIEKMAN: Yes.

SULLIVAN: Thanks.

DIEKMAN: It was a lot of grieving for me, in the process, too, and I don't want to skip over that. The grief was mostly for all of the years lost -

SULLIVAN: Mm. Yeah.

DIEKMAN: - and all of the hiding, and all of the ways that I ninja my personality to try to fit in. And the loss inside of me, the loss of belonging that finally belonging unleashed this recognition that I had never belonged, and that I'd done a lot of things that were painful to myself and to others to try to achieve something that was never possible.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.

Being an Autistic Women with a Neurotypical Husband

DIEKMAN: But one thing that it also did was I realized that I've always been this person with my husband -

SULLIVAN: That's beautiful!

DIEKMAN: - and we didn't know the word for it, and... yeah. And he of all people is like, "Well, this is who you— of course! This is who you are, we just have a name for it now." He's neurotypical. But it made me love him all the more and gave us so much gratitude for our relationship. From the start I haven't hidden, with him, any part of me.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Yeah, that's the ideal relationship for sure, is finding someone you don't have to mask with, you just are with them, fully.

DIEKMAN: Yeah.

SULLIVAN: That's wonderful. I'm glad you have that.

DIEKMAN: And there's some stories that you can't do that with neurotypical people, that it's not possible, and I just want to share that, for us, it is. It's us.

SULLIVAN: Yes!

DIEKMAN: He loves me for exactly who I am and how I am, and we're not the same, in so many ways we're not the same. We have to do so much communicating, like, "When you said that I heard ____. Did you mean ____?" (Laughs) But it just makes it stronger, the level of work we put into the relationship.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. That is good to hear. I think a lot of women who are identified later do really worry about how their partners, and how their families, and even sometimes how their children will react to having this new name for who you've always been, and that can be really scary and a little ostracizing to feel like you can't tell these people that you love a really important thing about you. So it is really good to hear positive stories of relationships maintaining even with diagnoses and new identifications and everything. Yeah.

DIEKMAN: Glad to share it. I'm glad it's my truth.

Amanda's Story of Pursuing A Diagnosis, Treatment, and Support for Her Son

SULLIVAN: Yes. Me too! No, thank you so much, I really appreciate your honesty. And you've mentioned that you really started to pursue this when you were looking at your kiddo's identification or potential identification. Had you been considering that he might be neurodivergent for a long time at that point? Or, what were you facing as a parent, or what was your daily life like, that made you want to pursue identification?

DIEKMAN: Yeah, yeah. So I have 3 kids, 3 boys, and my oldest... They're all neurodivergent. And I am. So I didn't have a model to base on to say, "Oh, well this is different, because you're not like so-and-so." They were all like me and like each other—although [they] couldn't be more different, but nobody fit the mold.

So it was really my oldest, when he was 2 and people are starting to talk like, "Oh, so what's your kid like?" and I'm watching him begin to play with others, and he joined a small in-home playgroup, is when I really started to notice, oh, he is not like the others. And he was so delightfully himself that I had a lot of pride in who he was and I wanted everyone to see his uniqueness. And at the same time, his struggles at home were so outside the realm of normal that I had a hard time finding anyone who I could connect with, the "Oh, your parenting is like my parenting."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: He would change clothes 15 times a day -

SULLIVAN: That sounds familiar.

DIEKMAN: - and it would take hours to find any piece of clothing that he could tolerate. And everybody said, "Oh, it's control, he's trying to control you," you know, "you need to put boundaries on." The advice I got in those early days was so bad for me -

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: - and so bad for my children. And even the gentle parenting advice that I got was really bad, because a lot of it was around mirroring and sportscasting, if you're familiar. Mirroring where I say, like, "Oh, you look angry!" And sportscasting, kind of, like, describing what they're doing: "Oh, you're ripping your shirt off. Hm." And those two things were very escalating for all of my children.

And I felt so at a loss when I had another one come along, and then another one come along; we were at 4, 2, and 0 when things kind of broke open for me. They were so difficult to parent in the traditional path. I went to a parenting group where we were supposed to be learning, like, de-escalation techniques, and the teacher described sitting down on the floor next to them, gazing away from them, relaxing your shoulders, breathing, and letting them kind of calm down and then come climb into her lap.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And I said well, but they're punching me.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: So how... how... does that work? And she was like, "Ooh, you're outside the bounds of what I've been trained for." And that's just always the way it was. Everywhere I went, the things that I was experiencing were outside the bounds of what people were prepared for. But nobody said "autism." It was always "parenting," and usually "attachment." "Oh, there must be something in the attachment." And I knew I was an attached parent. I knew that they trusted me and loved me, and that that was part of why I was seeing what I was seeing.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: So, for years, I blamed myself, because it was the only... Because everyone else blamed me. And it was the only thing that I could think of, that, well, if I just parented differently, somehow I could parent my way out of this. And at my second son's 2-year-old appointment, when you check off the boxes that's the early screener for autism, I wanted to chase her into the hallway and say "These aren't the right questions! I have boxes. I have boxes to check. You're not asking me the right questions!"

SULLIVAN: (Laughs) Yeah!

DIEKMAN: But I didn't! Because something held me back, I think something around ableism, like I didn't want to be identified, I didn't want to check boxes even though I knew that we did. And also, I think the institution... It was a moment when the institution could have asked different questions. And we could've gotten support. And the questions were wrong. And that is something that drives me now, is to give examples that people can relate to that were not the questions that they asked then, but to ask now, you know: Does this feel outside the bounds to you? I feel like we would catch so many more people just by letting parents say "My flags are up! Something's going on here."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: Because that was happening for me.

When we started with occupational therapy, I got some bad advice. I said, "Are you sure we shouldn't check for autism?" And they said, "Oh, he makes eye contact—" You know what I'm gonna say.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. (Laughs)

DIEKMAN: "He's so social, he has so much empathy, it couldn't be that."

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And so that was another opportunity that slid by. That was around 4.

And then it was really me. There was a voice inside of me that said "autism, autism, autism, you have to look into this, you have to understand that." And if I didn't see him and identify him, there's no one in the world that would have. And even in his official diagnosis, I'm so glad I knew as much as I did, because it took me bringing up the right examples to ensure that they would even see. Even at Duke Autism Center, that they would be able to see my son's presentation and see his autistic brain within it.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: So that happened when he was... Actually, I think he was 6 then, and is now 7. So still early, compared to 38.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: But when a part of me knew at 2, I would have really benefited from somebody coming alongside and giving me different parenting advice, and giving me a name, and giving me community when I had 4, 2, and 0. That's when I needed it. What came was, yeah, 5 years too late for me.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I think your point about how parents, and often mothers, are blamed for our children's... anything (Laughs) is a really interesting and important one, because historically, people used to believe that autism was because mothers are too cold, right? We were too unattached, we were too away from our children. And now, there's still this tendency to be like, well, your child's behavior is because you are not mothering (Air quotes) "the right way." And it's like, well, there are better and worse ways to parent, sure, but generally, you know, the parent is doing the best, the kid is doing the best, and putting the pressure on the family instead of offering support to the family is not gonna help anything.

I'm also just really interested to hear your story about really having to push them to see the right pieces of his personality and his presentation. [It] is really similar to my experience with my son, who is, I would say, more typically autistic. They did diagnose, but I really had to put a lot of pressure, and record the right videos to submit as evidence, and write down the right things, because he made eye contact, like you said. And he didn't point, he didn't smile, he lined things up, and he is a small white boy-presenting child, so he fits a lot of those institutionalized criteria of autism, but, you know, he smiled. He laughs. He makes terrible jokes all the time, which are my favorite. You know, a lot of it is the emotional regulation piece and just thinking differently; the cognitive style is different. If we hadn't pushed, I really don't know if they would have diagnosed. And then we would've been denied services that were actually really helpful for us.

It's really frustrating, as parents, when we have these experts who are supposed to be supporting us and supporting our families, to have to take that much on ourselves and do all this background research; like, we're not medical researchers. You know? But so many of us are now experts, because how many books have you read about autism?

DIEKMAN: Yeah!

SULLIVAN: You know, probably, I've read at least 30 and maybe more, so.

DIEKMAN: Yeah!

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah. So.

DIEKMAN: Yes, I agree with that. And what I went into the process really wanting was for them to help me understand my child better.

SULLIVAN: Yes!

DIEKMAN: And I walked away thinking, "I didn't learn anything new in this process. All I did was try to help you see what I can already see." And that's why it was so different from my identification, when I was being identified by an actually autistic woman who brought so much more understanding to me.

And that's something that I still hope for for my son, is that we could do another identification process as he gets older, because he's so curious about his brain.

SULLIVAN: Yes!

DIEKMAN: We'll ride around in the car, and he'll say, "Tell me a story about my brain." And I'll tell him a story of something he did and explain why it happened, and how, and he'll say, "Tell me about normal people's brains." And we've deconstructed "normal," I've given him a lot of alternatives; that's what he likes to say. And so then I'll explain what somebody else would have done under those circumstances, and it usually ends up with us belly-laughing about how bizarre we find neurotypical people to be and the ways that other people would have dealt with something, and the way that he did.

But it's given us a lot of vocabulary, especially because he has a less-known profile of autism. It's given him that lens for himself, that there's something special about his brain. He's also redheaded and blue-eyed -

SULLIVAN: Oh my gosh.

DIEKMAN: - which he is very proud to tell you is 1 in 1,000, and then he'll say, "and I have an autistic brain." So he just feels like the rarest Pokémon card of the deck.

SULLIVAN: He sounds wonderful, oh my gosh. That's so cute! Yeah.

DIEKMAN: He is cute! He's in a season with higher support needs, so it is important for me to celebrate him, because right now he's taking a lot of co-regulation energy. That is no small task.

SULLIVAN: No, it is not. Yes.

DIEKMAN: So I have to really celebrate what a rare Pokémon card he is. (Laughs) He's a shiny rainbow rare, for any Pokémon listeners.

SULLIVAN: My kids are very Minecraft-oriented, so if it's a Minecraft simile I will get it, but. (Laughs)

DIEKMAN: We're Minecrafters over here too, so.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. How do you homeschool, or unschool, or any kind of alternative school, without Minecraft? I do not know. I don't know how people used to do it, but it's wonderful.

DIEKMAN: Impossible.

SULLIVAN: It's impossible! (Laughs)

DIEKMAN: I'm having a hard time convincing my son that there's 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour, because he's so sure it should be 64, which is a complete number to him because of the complete stack in Minecraft.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: He's like, why didn't they pick 64?

SULLIVAN: (Sighs wistfully) Why... Because the sun and the Earth did not combine to turn in that way, yeah.

DIEKMAN: (Laughs)

Parenting A Child with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance/ Pervasive Drive for Autonomy)

SULLIVAN: It's hard to explain those kinds of things. So you mentioned a couple times that he has an alternative profile of autism. Could we kind of dig into that a little bit and talk more about that?

DIEKMAN: Absolutely, yes, yes. So my son has a PDA profile, or "pathological demand avoidance" is what that stands for. Although I think a better description has come up that also uses the same letters, which is a "pervasive drive for autonomy."

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Much better.

DIEKMAN: That (Unintelligible) it and puts it on in the positive, and is equally true. More true, really. So I self-diagnosed that for him, because it is non-diagnosable in the United States. Although there are plenty of clinicians who are working within the framework, it is still not very well-known, not very well understood, and, even within the autism community, it's little-known and little recognized.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: I have become very passionate about spreading the word about PDA because of how important the framework is, how significant the needs are, and also how stigmatized our child's behaviors can be.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: Because of that, someone said that we're the needle in the haystack even among autistic people who are a needle in the haystack among humanity. So it's really hard. And I feel really lucky that somebody whispered the words PDA at some point on the grapevine Internet, and I picked it up and then searched it out myself. Man, it could've been ten more years of wondering what is going on with my child. And getting an answer to that question is so crucial.

He has this internal drive to protect his own autonomy and his own control at all times, on a brain level. So when things threaten him, it's not conscious choice that he goes through to decide, "Ok, hm. Mom says that I have to have a purple pop, because there's only a purple pop left, when I had in my head an orange pop." No, I am limiting his choice, and his choice was orange pop. It's like he flies into a panic attack over this limit on his autonomy and freedom. And so us only having a purple popsicle can be meltdown-inducing.

It feels so out of control; it feels like we're walking on eggshells to have him not flip his lid, and it felt like we have to be perfect parents; like we cannot do anything that is outside of his realm of capacity 100% of the time or he explodes in these aggressive meltdowns that leave us all reeling.

And had we not found PDA, I think we would have gotten a lot of other, very harmful diagnoses to explain this behavior.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: We've taken an accommodation framework, where we want to change the way that we are with him in order to give him a feeling of safety, to preserve his autonomy, to give his brain the capacity to tolerate greater challenges that might, earlier, have sent him into a meltdown, and now, he can tolerate. And also, we very much want for him to feel like he has some understanding over what's happening. Because it's frightening to him as well -

SULLIVAN: It is.

DIEKMAN: - to lose control over a popsicle. And he knows this. We did Size of the Problem with our OT.

SULLIVAN: Oh yes. I know that one.

DIEKMAN: (Laughs) And Size of the Problem says, you know, small problem, small reaction. And he's the opposite, small problem, huge reaction. But his brain says, "This is a big problem," and his brain doesn't know Size of the Problem. It's not on a thinking brain.

SULLIVAN: No.

DIEKMAN: Trying to bring that rationality into it at those times is not helpful. And at the same time, he has a rational brain and knows, afterward, "Whoa, there must be something wrong with me, because I don't see anybody else losing it over the color of their popsicle."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And we wanted to nip that "there's something wrong with me" thinking right there in the bud and instead say, "There's something different about you. And you deserve to know everything you can about that difference." And also, if I need to go to the store and get a new box of popsicles right now, I will. That's okay! For you, today, it is orange, and that is ok.

That does not mean that I'm letting my child walk all over me, that does not mean that you're learning that, if you flip out, then I'll do whatever you say, no, no, no, no. That means that, right now, what you need is to preserve your autonomy and control, and that control says that it needs to be this color, and I'm the adult, I get to flex. I'm fine with it, to use the framework that we worked out. That now, in a proactive way, I can commit, "Hey, if you always need to be able to choose the color of your popsicle, I can commit to having at least two boxes in the fridge at all times so that you can choose." And giving room for myself to think ahead to the times when he's gonna need... like, we take 2 cars to all events. Because he needs to leave. And when he needs to leave, he needs to leave now.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And that is an accommodation that we make. And thankfully we have 2 cars, and we are able to do that, but if we didn't, we would have to think of an alternative way to be able to get him home at any point. And it's like that through all the pieces of our lives, as we think ahead of "What might you need?" and then work with him, say, "I think you might need to go home early, and so let's put all the things in place so that you can do that." And then that actually decreases his concern because he knows he's got that plan in the bag, and we can head out whenever he needs it.

I don't think that any parenting coach would have led me down those roads if I hadn't discovered PDA. It was only because I knew the right name for this that I found the right kinds of accommodations.

Danielle's Story of Her Daughter's PDA Traits

SULLIVAN: Yeah. My daughter has a lot of the PDA traits. She is not officially diagnosed, because we're in the United States, but we struggled a lot in her first couple of years with similar things to what you were mentioning with your son. She would have—before she could speak, especially—these, like, 3-hour meltdowns over what seemed to me, at the time, kind of minor problems, right? Small problems, small response. Like, you know, her shoe didn't fit the right way, or she didn't want to wear her shoes, or her sock was itchy, or... It was many shoe-oriented things. I had that stuck in my head.

DIEKMAN: We have also had quite a few of those.

SULLIVAN: Many shoe issues, many clothing issues, like you said, changing clothes a lot. Getting decision fatigue really quickly and just shooting straight, like you said, past the rational point, and straight into fight, flight, or freeze. But usually, it was the fight. It was the yelling, the kicking, the screaming.

And I think a lot of parenting professionals would have put that into, like you said, the tantrums, trying to get control back from the parent. And they put it in this framework where you're fighting with your child, right? You're not on the same team, but you're on 2 separate teams, and your child's over here and you're over here (Gestures with hands to opposite sides of the screen), and you have to be stronger and take over. And there's this authoritarian kind of model that I don't love.

And I read my butt off trying to figure out what I could do to help her. She wasn't diagnosed with ADHD yet, her brother was autistic and non-speaking at the time and I was wiped out and exhausted.

And I found an approach that... I don't even know if he says PDA in the whole book, but it is this assumption that there's a skills gap. Like, that your kid is doing their best, and that, if they're not doing what you ask, it's because they can't. And you just have to take that as rote; they can't do it. So how are you, as the parent, like you said, going to create flexibility and going to give them support so that they can build up the skill to eventually do it? Right? It has helped so much with my daughter.

And now, working with parents when I do parent coaching, it's not exactly what I recommend for kids who seem like they might be on the PDA profile, but it's very close and it helped us so much just to get out of this rut of "I'm a bad parent and I'm never going to do it perfectly!" and to, like you were saying, help her start to plan ahead, and create some resilience, and create some tolerance for when things don't go right, because we can control a lot.

I think a lot of parents feel like they have to create resilience by giving their kids hard things and really pushing them to do better, do better, and try harder—and sometimes, for some kids, maybe that works. But for my kiddos, we actually have to do fewer things so that they have more space to deal with the one hard thing. And that was introduced, I guess, in this book. I'll put it in the show notes; I can't remember the name. I should have looked it up before, but I kind of didn't think about it.

What Burnout Looks Like for a Child with PDA

What are some of the things that you do for your kiddo? Because you talked about planning ahead, making sure that you have an out, right, an escape. I loved your reference to the "small problem, small reaction, big problem, big reaction," because that works with my autistic kiddo but not my ADHDer. So my older, you can say "Is this a small problem or a big problem, what are you feeling?" and he's like "Oh, yeah! This is a small problem!" and it totally hits that rational piece of the brain. With my younger, if you're like, "Is this a small problem or a big problem?" like, she can't even respond. It's just not even— her rational mind is, like, out. It'll come back when it's calmer. So, yeah, it's really interesting to have different kids with different brains and different techniques with everybody.

What are some things that you've implemented in your parenting overall, or the way you framed your parenting, to support him as best you can?

DIEKMAN: Yeah. The first move that we made happened when he was in burnout. And so, unfortunately, it wasn't until he had ground to a total halt that we began to shift our parenting. But I also think that, when a child is in burnout, the parenting that you use at that point, it's so important to get it right for the healing to happen. And it pushed us to the breaking point and beyond, because it turns out that all the framework we were using needed to break. It needed to break down, it needed to crumble into pieces, and then a new way could come from it. The push, push, push model did not work.

SULLIVAN: No.

DIEKMAN: He was a pandemic kindergartener -

SULLIVAN: My daughter too!

DIEKMAN: Yes! ...Who got left behind by everything that was supposed to support him in making this big move into big kid zone. And he wanted to follow his older brother into kindergarten, he wanted to play on the playground, he had this picture in his head of what it was gonna be. Plus his little lovely 4-year-old preschool class stopped on a dime and then never returned, and he never saw those kids again.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.

DIEKMAN: So he was working— Those are real traumas for kids that age. And he already had those. And then I pushed... In my loving wonder, I can be gentle with myself and also see that I pushed, and pushed, and pushed him to "Ok, well that setting didn't work, alright, let's try a new teacher. Ok, now let's try this backyard preschool. Ok, now let's try another backyard preschool."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And the fourth one, he dutifully went for a month, and then one day, he didn't want to go. And the only framework that I had for that moment was anxiety, and we can't let anxiety win, we have to show anxiety that you can't let it shut you down. And so I said "I love you, I'm gonna help you," I picked him up, and I carried him, kicking and screaming, to the teacher, who wrapped her arms around him, and I walked away.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And that day, I cried the entire time he was gone. Something about that did not work for me. It was, like, the fullest expression of this style of parenting that says you can never let him avoid, you have to take these things head on. And I went back to pick him up, and the teacher said, "Oh, he cried for a while, but he's fine now," we went and got in the car, and he stopped speaking to me. He screamed and kicked the whole ride home, he went up into his room, and that's when the burnout started.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And he didn't leave his room. His food restricted to only 1 food that he would eat. He wouldn't speak; he wouldn't do anything other than watch YouTube on his tablet for 12 hours a day until, you know, wake up to fall asleep. And we were faced with: What are we gonna do? Are we gonna take the iPad away, are we gonna use more punishment, more control? Or does he just need another setting, you know, is it school number 5? Like, how are we gonna solve the problem of our child?

And instead, we found PDA, and I researched it like a crazy person. And I also, importantly, tapped into my intuition, which was telling me "This is not right. This doesn't feel right, this doesn't feel good, this child is hurting." All these other ways of looking at him, as being broken, as being disobedient, as needing me to— No, none of that was right. He was in pain, and he was in so deep of pain that parts of him were shutting down.

And so I began a new path. And every time I brought him pretzels, I would set them down and walk out, because I thought the least thing I could do right now is respect what he's doing. Pretzels was his only food. And he would scream at me, you know, "Go away," all kinds of terrible words. The worst things he could think of. And I would sit outside and lean my head against his door and cry. Because it was breaking my heart to see my 6-year-old like this.

And yet, when he began to recover, it looked like: I would set the pretzels down, and he would touch my fingers as I set them down, and that was our first reconnection. And then, eventually, he would look up at me as I walked in. And I took those moments and I said, we're gonna rebuild our relationship on this, on you touching my fingers when I bring you pretzels in this dark room with your iPad.

So it became... What I call it now is low-demand parenting. But at the time, what it was was meeting my child where he is. And that meant I needed to drop every single imagination I had of what it looks like for a 6-year-old to be thriving and instead accept [that] this is what I have right here in front of me. I have a kid who can watch YouTube, who can eat pretzels, drink water, go to the bathroom, and listen to books—so, he continued his evening routine, we were able to read him books before he fell asleep -

SULLIVAN: Good.

DIEKMAN: It was the only thing that we kept from, like, the "old way." And it was because he wanted it. He wanted to snuggle. He largely wanted his dad to be the one to read, and so we kept that routine for them. And from there, I realized that when I accept my child right where they are and proactively, like I wrote down that list of what he could do. I said: Ok, here's my plan for his day. He's gonna wake up, he's gonna watch YouTube as many hours as he wants to, he's gonna eat pretzels, drink water, go to the bathroom, and do his bedtime routine, and that is an ideal day. And I did all the work inside myself to be able to mean it, so that I wasn't internally brokenhearted, I wasn't crying against the door anymore. I was proud of him that he was meeting my expectations, and [I] did all the things I needed to with the people in our world to say, "Hey, this is what I want for him. This is actively what I want.

And he did, he healed, and suddenly the world opened up a bit, and he watched a YouTube video and wanted to try something that he watched instead of just watching it. "Oh, these kids are racing cars down the hallway and making them crash. I want to do it!"

How Amanda Found Low Demand Parenting

And so we began to bring the world on the screen into real life, and I followed his lead. And the great thing about low-demand parenting— and the idea behind this is really that, for PDA children, the world is filled with demands.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: So many unseen demands that we place on them. And if your kid's not in burnout, then you probably still have a lot of demands wrapped around them.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: It was only when things came to a full halt that we were able to see just how many things we were expecting of him and to deconstruct all the work, all the reasons that we expected that. We expect you to brush your teeth because people are supposed to brush our teeth. And we expect you to say "yes, please" because that's a sign of respect. And we expect you to change your clothes because clothes might smell bad. Or, you know, all the things that we expect. And when none of those things were possible anymore, we had to figure out, well, is this still a good life? And it turns out it was.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And if that's a good life, then we don't need to wrap him back up in all these expectations. And it turns out we didn't need to do it for our other kids, either.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: [They] weren't in burnout but were showing us, in all these different ways, that they were having difficulty with the expectations that we had layered onto their lives. They're not PDAers, and so they weren't showing that in such dramatic ways, and their brains aren't wired in the same way to resist in quite the same form, but it was important for our whole family.

And when we discovered just how healing and just how beautiful and wonderful this new way was, we were like, ok, then, we gonna put words to this. We're gonna give it a name, we're going to create family rules that say we can eat food wherever we want to at any time, any food, anywhere, anytime. We're gonna say we get to choose how we use our screens every time. We're gonna say bodily autonomy is a core value to us as a family, so no one gets touched without their consent, and it's my body, my choice. So I get to choose what I wear all the time, every time; no one can tell me differently. And we created all these rules around autonomy.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And the rules ended up giving us so much freedom, because anybody who came into our house who was like, "Oh, you know, kids, you can't eat yoghurt on the couch," and I would say nope! It's family rules, right here on the wall, family rule, anything and anywhere, anytime. That we began to trust it. And it became so core to who we were that eventually— and of course, all this syncs up with pandemic, so we're in our own little family bubble, and then people start coming in, and then now, eventually, we're out in the world, and my older son was playing with a friend who said, like, "Well, you have to do it this way," and he said, "No, in our family, we say that everybody gets to make [a choice]— we don't force anyone, everyone makes their own choice."

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm, yeah. That's beautiful, good, so he can advocate for himself a little bit now by taking this out of the home.

DIEKMAN: Yes!

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: He's beginning to bring it out in the world and use this framework of "in our family." Which I think is important, that it wasn't, like, "just for you" and because your brain is this way.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: No, this is how we're all gonna be, together, in order so that you can thrive.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.

DIEKMAN: And yes, it's one member of our clan, but we all needed to change our way.

SULLIVAN: Yeah! It's afforded of everybody regardless of neurotype, at least for your family. And did it feel really scary initially, or was it immediately this positive, exciting..? Because, I mean, at least in my steps toward lower demands on my kiddos... I think I'm much better at it now but initially, it was like, "Will they ever eat balanced nutritional food again? Will they ever not watch TV all day? Will they ever—" And you have a lot of this internalized. Especially, I think, partly because of all the ways parents are blamed, especially moms, again, for all the things our kids are doing wrong. It's like, is this just gonna be another way society blames me for my kids not doing what they're supposed to do? Did you experience that too? Is it just me? (Laughs) And how'd you handle that kind of feeling?

DIEKMAN: It's definitely not just you. (Sullivan laughs) I've heard that from so many others. You know, I'm still investigating my own profile of autism, and I think this is one place that leads me to think, "Ah, man, I may be a PDAer myself." It just brings me to life. It brings me joy. It felt so right, like a glove fitting, when we began to do it. And a lot of the child parts of me actually have had healing by experiencing this freedom in this family. Because that wonderful thing about this approach is that it applies to the parents as well.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

How Low Demand Parenting Supports Healthy Boundaries

DIEKMAN: So when they want to wrestle and I am not feeling like wrestling, I say hey, it's my body, my choice, I don't feel like wrestling. Or, like, we were at the swimming pool today, and I get in the pool really slowly, because cold water and I do not like each other.

SULLIVAN: It's cold!

DIEKMAN: And it feels really cold to my body! I feel things really intensely. And especially cold and wet are very intense sensations for me. So they're like, "We're gonna push you in!" I'm like, "Whoa, whoa, no. I get to choose."

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm.

DIEKMAN: And that's very important for them. People say, like, "You're the adult, and you need to show them that you're the adult." I don't know. There are a lot of things about me being the adult that are very important in my relationship with my children.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: But I think showing them that I'm a human is more important than anything.

SULLIVAN: Yes!

DIEKMAN: That me being their mom doesn't put me on some other class of existence where I don't have needs. No, I'm a human, just like you! And my body is sensitive, just like yours! And I don't want to get in the pool quickly. And that, them looking at me with that kind of respect, making that connection of, "Oh yeah, she doesn't force me, so I'm not gonna force her, and I'm gonna work around it." They accommodate my sensitive body. And I think those are the best learning opportunities for my children to carry with them into the world.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Yeah.

DIEKMAN: I don't thing that it makes them any less respectful of me, any less loving toward-- me; it's more.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm!

DIEKMAN: It's: I deserve your care, just like you deserve mine.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. It sounds like... I use collaborative parenting, which has elements of lower demands in it, but it sounds like both of our styles sort of are based in basic human rights, right? So it's not about the parent in one side over here and the child over here, but rather that everybody has these sets of things that we uphold for you, that you deserve basic respect and dignity, and all these, you know, the list. And how are we gonna make it so that everybody here, regardless of age or relationship, has access to these same rights, these same basic pieces of respect? So, yeah.

And I do think, like you're saying, that's really important for kiddos as they grow up, that you want them to have a style of making decisions and understanding themselves that transfers into their adulthood. Because if you are under somebody else's authority when you are a child for 18 years and then you are suddenly an adult, that can be really [tricky]; it can take time to translate into a, "How am I authoritative over my own body now, or over my own decisions?" And if you teach kids, "No, you decide," then they can carry that forward into their first relationships, their first jobs, their first [of] every adulthood piece. Into: "this is how I decide what is best for me." And I just, I love that, and I think it's so important.

DIEKMAN: I think about that all the time.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: [The fact] that one of the most common critiques of a low-demand approach is, "Well, what are you gonna do when they get out into the world? What about when they get their first job? Are they gonna tell their boss 'I choose'?"

And I think the opposite. I think the things that we're approaching on this very young... You know, my oldest is 9, so we're not seeing some of the teenage behaviors yet, but I see how they germinate from these early experiences. So, my oldest doesn't like to be touched, for example. But I like to hug him; I want to, I want to hug him goodnight. Every night, I want to. But that's a demand for him. And the way that I approach it is, when I have a need, the demands are essentially stacked on top of an expectation, which is stacked on top of an adult need. And when I can figure out what my need is, well, my need is to feel connected to him at that time. And so, ok, I can get that need met a hundred other ways that don't involve crossing his boundaries.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: That is true, and I also need to figure out: why am I choosing not to hug him? Because I can get my needs met and still feel resentful about the hug; I can still hold onto that shred of, like, "Well, I want him to be a kid who hugs his mom." Or play it out in the future, "Well, what about, is he ever gonna be able to hug anyone? Is he ever gonna be able to have—" all these worried thoughts.

So instead, I flipped it around, and I said, "Well, what am I teaching him by honoring his body boundaries?" I'm teaching him that his safest people will never violate his body and that, when he says, "I don't want this, this doesn't feel good to me," that the only appropriate answer is "Ok."

And if I, from this early age, insisted on hugging him anyway, what would that teach him? And how do we play that out into the future? Ok, his safest person, his mother, even when he says "I don't like this," she hugs him anyway because her needs are more important than his.

And I can totally see how, ok, fast forward in 10 years, it's gonna be the same situations, just bigger.

SULLIVAN: Mm-hm. Yeah!

Setting Your Intention as a Parent

DIEKMAN: And so to practice this kind of approach... it's a proactive approach, but it's also a very intentional approach. You have to do your own internal work. A lot of it is on the parents, but not in the way that traditional parenting says where it's on you to, like, do the right song and dance so your kids come out ok. No, it's on you to figure out what's driving you here, why is this such an important demand in this moment? And to truly let it go is heart work. There's a million ways to be a low-demand parent where you're still resentful and angry with your kids.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: To do it whole-heartedly, where there's a positive reason behind everything and not a negative one— "Well, I don't want him to melt down." Well, that's not a reason. What's the positive? What is it that you want them to learn?

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: That's what makes it, I think, such a good fit for our family too, is: it's not just accommodating to the child, it's actually motivating the kind of people I want them to grow up and to be. And those people, I think, are gonna have no problem with their first boss, because they've been learning these skills from such an early age.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: Well, that's the same things I ask them when they need something of me that I don't want to give: "Well, what is it?" What's your need? What's driving you? How else can we get that need met that doesn't violate my boundaries? And boy, those are people who are gonna be really ready for the world as it is.

SULLIVAN: Yeah! Yeah, they're gonna be set up. And I think, also, that this kind of parenting is really value-oriented. It's: What is important for you and your kids? Like you said, it's directly related to what your internal drives are. And kids who grow up into adults who are in tune with their values, and what they really want out of life, and what they really hope to push in community terms, right? Maybe it's social justice— And whatever you're doing, whatever your work, your project is in life, if you know what your values are from when you're 20, like, how much better will your life be than those of us who are figuring it out, you know, in our 30s, 40s, 50s because we weren't giving these skills of really understanding our feelings, our wants, our drives when we were younger?

Unschooling and Low Demand Parenting

I think, like you, I often think about my kids in terms of... For example, we're unschoolers, and in many ways that's low-demand, right, that we don't sit there and make them do math worksheets and write their letters and stuff. And people will be like well, what if they get to college or they get to be 25 and they don't know geometry? And I'm like, "They can learn it when they're 25! But they can't learn—" I mean, and you can learn what your values are and how to live when you're 25 too, but isn't it better to know that earlier? And you can pick up this little non-value-related stuff, you know, your algebra, your Pokémon cards, whatever, so I could go and learn Pokémon right now, right? I didn't lose anything by not getting it when I was 8, arguably. But I couldn't learn this parenting system later and still get the same results for my kiddos now.

So, yeah, for me it's really about: What is the underlying goal? What do you want for your children, what do you want for your family, and are you parenting in a way that supports that?

DIEKMAN: We're unschoolers too.

SULLIVAN: Yeah— Oh, good. I love it, I love it so much. (Both laugh)

DIEKMAN: Yeah, we (Unintelligible)

SULLIVAN: Have you been doing it for a long time?

DIEKMAN: Just the past couple of years. Started [with] the pandemic, and it was when they suddenly all came home from all their various things and the world stopped.

SULLIVAN: Yup.

DIEKMAN: And I was like, "Alright, well I'm doing it my way, then." It was so freeing. When the world stopped, it was amazing for us.

SULLIVAN: Yes. Low demands.

DIEKMAN: It was! We were living a high-demand life, and it was killing me. And then everything stopped, and I was like ok, then, we're just gonna play.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: We're gonna play all the time.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And it was so good! I mean, we went through a lot more hard stuff after that, but I still hold onto that first spring and what everybody did when the world stopped as, like, what a moment that was for us.

SULLIVAN: It was a very unique moment, yeah. And if you were— So, my youngest was ending preschool and was an arriving kindergartener the fall after. It sounds like your second was in the same place, right?

DIEKMAN: My second, yeah.

SULLIVAN: And I defy anyone to try to get a kindergartener through online schooling and not just pull them out and do unschooling. It's just... There was no decision. It was just the obvious choice. There was no way.

DIEKMAN: Yeah. We made it one week.

SULLIVAN: Yeah. I think we made it a week too! Yeah, maybe 10 days, but it wasn't very much.

DIEKMAN: Yeah, I pushed as far as I could within that framework, and it was not very far.

SULLIVAN: Nope.

DIEKMAN: And then, like, ok, we're out.

SULLIVAN: Nope.

DIEKMAN: (Laughs)

SULLIVAN: My probable PDAer would attend the morning song because she liked the song, and then she would not do any of the other things, and she would come back for the closing song. And I was like, ok, we just need to let you go listen to your own music and not worry about this whole online kindergarten thing. No shame to the teachers, they were doing their best in a very difficult time, but it was not gonna work.

Additional Resources on PDA

Do you have any resources on PDA that you would recommend for listeners who might want to learn more about it?

DIEKMAN: Absolutely. If you live in the United States, the PDA Society of North America is growing, and Diane Gould leads that and is doing great work bringing more awareness to all of us here who are either diagnosing our kids or working on a hunch.

There's a great parent coach who works at At Peace Parenting (Transcriber's note: org is called At Peace Parents), and her name is Casey, and she does some pre-diagnostic work that can help people go from "I think this might be my kid" to "yeah, it definitely is, and here's what it means," which is such an important part of the process for all of us in places where we can't do that with the standard professionals.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: I think, if you're on Instagram or Facebook, any of the socials, you can find Kristy Forbes, who does some great teaching, and her inTune Pathways course is really fantastic for taking things deeper. She'll always take things deeper.

SULLIVAN: She's great, yeah.

DIEKMAN: Wherever you think it goes, it goes deeper. And I love that about her. And because she's a PDA adult, she can also really help to bring more understanding of how this little brain is working and calm those adult fears that say, "What is this gonna look like in an adult?" And she's like, "Well, I'll show you."

SULLIVAN: "Here I am." Yeah.

DIEKMAN: Yes! And the same that's been true for autism for so long, that we just always look at the kids and then we aren't imagining, "Well, what is this gonna look like in an adult?" And we have plenty of examples.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah.

DIEKMAN: So I'm really grateful for PDA adults in this season when there's still too little information and too little understanding. I think the best experts are always the people with lived experience, and so that's where I would recommend that families turn first, is people with lived experience. And then, secondarily, to some of these rising leaders who are able to translate that information.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, yeah. Thank you. I'll put links to all those folks in the show notes below, so please go check them out. Thank you for sharing those. And did you want to talk about your parenting course?

Amanda's Low Demand Parenting Course Is Now Available!

DIEKMAN: Sure! I'd love to! There are people who are sensing that low demand parenting may be a fit, and I would say especially for parents of PDAers, where it's not like, "Is it a fit or not?" it's pretty much the way that we can accommodate our PDA children. And it's gonna look different for every family; it's not, like, a set of rules to follow. It's a process for determining what it looks like to begin to see with the eyes of a low-demand parent.

So, when I began this parenting method, it didn't have a name, it didn't exist, and I decided, "I'm just gonna write it down and kind of help explain what can feel sort of mysterious." Like, if we've always insisted that we eat dinner at the table, but our kid never does—you know, they're always screaming and eating under a blanket, but every day we insist that they come to the table—how do you go from that to something else?

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And so that's what this course will do. It will help you begin to see all of the things, all of the demands that are in your life—because that's really step 1, is just to see what's there. And I love to take a demand like "put on your shoes" and break it down into all the tiny demands, because I could list off, like, 30 demands embedded in "put on your shoes."

SULLIVAN: Yeah. Once you start thinking about it, it's really overwhelming how much we're all asked to do every day.

DIEKMAN: Yeah, it can be! It's also really helped me. When I get stuck on something, I just break it down, and I look at all the embedded demands. Because oftentimes, I can change one of those tiny demands and still get the thing done, but I do it differently.

SULLIVAN: Yeah!

DIEKMAN: Because it was really this piece that was hard, not the end result. And the same is true for our kids: they may be able to put their shoes on; they just need to do it when they arrive at their destination and not beforehand. So it's a matter of bringing the shoes along and putting them on in the car; that may be the key. That's been really helpful for us, for example!

SULLIVAN: Yes! (Both laugh)

DIEKMAN: Or it may be the getting up and walking over to the shoe bin that's hard. It may be that it's the adult bringing the shoes to the kid, then they can put them on by themselves. Or it may be the putting them on that's hard, and it's really the adult putting them on wherever that happens, they just can't put them on for themselves. So the first step is seeing. And then, after that, it's really a matter of discerning why this matters at all. Because so many demands— The easiest ones to drop are the ones that you're like, "Well, good parents do blah blah blah." If that's your why, you can drop it!

SULLIVAN: Yeah. That's not good enough. You don't have to do it.

DIEKMAN: Yeah, you are already a good parent. Full stop. So you get to drop that demand without a lot of heartache. The harder ones are, "Well, this is how I believe people are meant to be."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And, ok, well why do you believe that? And that's the heart work, where I began to dig down deeper.

And then the great thing is, this all happens in communication with your child, so the third step is to get to know what your kid is thinking. What's hard about this process? And kids have a lot to say.

SULLIVAN: Yes they do.

DIEKMAN: And that's wonderful. They have a lot to tell us. It may be with words, or, like with my kid, a lot of it has to do with behavior. If I open up a topic and he says, "Shut up," I think, "Ooh, that's meaningful communication that this is a problem, and this is probably a place for me to drop." Or, if I pause his iPad for us to talk and then he presses play again, like, "Oh, ok, that's good communication that he's not talking."

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: So having meaningful communication with your child, it may not look like a calm, across-the-table chitchat the way that you might be imagining, but it's communication all the same.

SULLIVAN: Yes.

DIEKMAN: And that back-and-forth communication yields so much information about what our kids need and what's tricky for them, so that we can begin to drop.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: And then, after all of that is when dropping happens. You're armed with so much information about why it matters and what's going on with your kid, and then you can begin to strategically drop demands, to build structure around those dropped demands, and then build in routine or novelty depending on what your kid needs. PDAers often need a lot of novelty, but a lot of children need a lot of routine. So it's really a matter of balancing those two needs and creating a family routine around it. So if that's the kind of process that people are looking for, then that's what you'll find in the course.

And the great thing about it is, it's super practical. These are things that are happening every single day. We eat every single day. We dress ourselves every single day. We brush our teeth, some of us, every single day. And so there's so many opportunities to practice dropping demands. It's like a game; it can be. Ok, well, brushing teeth was hard yesterday, but we didn't do it while singing. Maybe if we try singing— maybe it's too serious! If we try making it silly, maybe it's the demand that it be done in a serious way or silently.

SULLIVAN: Yeah!

DIEKMAN: Or laying in bed. We brush teeth laying in bed because the demand of going into the bathroom is way too much, but the toothbrushing is not a problem. It's spitting in the sink that's the problem, so we spit into a cup! And just, there's so many demands that you can drop once you figure out how to look at the world through this lens. And so this course holds your hand as you begin to do that and gives a framework for how to do it not just once or twice, but how to build a lifestyle around it that can feel really fulfilling and really positive. And, especially in a world that says parents are supposed to have high expectations for their kids, I think we need to know that we're not alone in this, and so I think the course also gives you a sense of community.

SULLIVAN: Yeah.

DIEKMAN: That there's at least one other mom out there who's doing these crazy things alongside you and finding a lot of joy in it!

SULLIVAN: Thank you so much! So I'll put a link to that course in the show notes below too, so please go check it out. And also, Amanda's Instagram is down there, and she posts really good stuff, so go follow her.

And thank you so much for being here with us today. I really appreciate all the detailed information you shared and how much you gave about your own life and your family's life, because I think it'll help a lot of folks who are listening to this. So thank you so much.

DIEKMAN: It's an honor; I'm glad to be a part of your community.

SULLIVAN: Thank you!

DIEKMAN: Thank you for including me.

Thank you so much for joining us on the Neurodiverging podcast today. Check out the links below and in the show notes for more information on Amanda and her work. We have a transcription available for folks who would like it at neurodiverging.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider putting some money in the pot to support it through Ko-fi, PayPal, or the Patreon, links below. I look forward to seeing you again in the next podcast.

Please remember, we are all in this together.

1 Comment

  1. THANK YOU!!
    You just saved me. I have taken all the parenting classes and read the books. The “tools” don’t work with my kid. She has been diagnosed with ADHD but I’ve lately started to believe that there is more going on with her. Chatting with neurodiverse friends allowed me to see that maybe some of her behavior problems- like melting down about teeth brushing- may have underlying causes. So I started looking. I found your podcast and this episode popped up. About halfway through I was on the floor sobbing. For most of ten years, I have felt like a failure as a parent and have wondered what was wrong with my daughter to make her act like such a psychopath. In this episode, you and Amanda Diekman have finally shined the light of hope into my life. Maybe I’m not a terrible parent. Maybe my kid isn’t a Jekyll/Hyde monster. Maybe I’ve just been given the wrong tools, the wrong advice, and a lot of bad information. What if my daughter and I weren’t miserable anymore? What if our house could be filled with laughter? What if I could finally figure out how to raise my daughter with understanding?

    Years of love and pain and frustration and trying and failing, and this is the first time I’ve felt like I might be able to do this. Like I might not fail. Like I am not a bad parent for letting her do things that make her comfortable instead of following the rules. Like I’m not alone. Like she is not alone.

    I cannot thank you enough!

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