Challenging What We Know About Autism and PDA

Dr. Donna Henderson joins Emily Kircher-Morris to talk about the changes in the assessment process for autism, the importance of empowering therapists to diagnose autism, and the need for equity in masking. Their conversation also explores the double empathy problem and the challenges of balancing unmasking with the needs of neurodiverse individuals in educational settings. They also discuss the PDA profile and its place within the autism spectrum. That’s all waiting for you on episode 216. Takeaways The assessment process for autism is evolving, with a shift towards understanding subjective experience rather than relying solely on test scores. Therapists are adapting by relying less on formal tests and more on interview skills and understanding inner subjective experiences. Empowering therapists to diagnose autism is important for identifying and supporting individuals who may have been missed in the past. Masking and camouflaging are complex behaviors that can have both benefits and drawbacks, and it is important to find a balance that respects individual needs and promotes equity. Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) is not simply about avoiding demands, but rather an overriding biological drive for autonomy. Misdiagnosis and labeling are common for PDAers, leading to potential negative consequences, especially for minority boys. Understanding the core features of PDA, such as difficulty coping with demands, a wide variety of coping mechanisms, and challenges with social hierarchy, is crucial for accurate diagnosis and support. Dr. Donna Henderson has been a clinical neuropsychologist for over 30 years. She is passionate about identifying and supporting autistic individuals, particularly those who camouflage, and she is co-author (with Drs. Sarah Wayland and Jamell White) of two books: Is This Autism? A Guide For Clinicians and Everyone Else and Is This Autism? A Companion Guide For Diagnosing. Dr. Henderson provides neuropsychological evaluations and consultations for children, adolescents, and adults who would like to understand themselves better. She is a sought-after lecturer on the less obvious presentations of autism, autistic girls and women, PDA, and on parenting children with complex profiles. She also provides case consultations and neurodiversity-affirmative training for other healthcare professionals. BACKGROUND READING Donna’s website Is This Autism?

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The Neurodiversity Podcast talks with leaders in the fields of psychology, education, and beyond, about positively impacting neurodivergent people. Our goal is to reframe differences that were once considered disabilities or disorders, promote awareness of this unique population, and improve the lives of neurodivergent and high-ability people.