Pathological Demand Avoidance Meets Autism

Mette Harrison
4 min readApr 25, 2023

I’ve been investigating this new diagnosis that is often autism-adjacent and recently it occurred to me that it might apply to me more than I originally believed. My childhood was filled with me being told to follow rules and me trying to follow rules. I was called a “teacher’s pet” and was often the golden child of both my mother and my father because I was so obedient much of the time. But as I grew older, I see more and more defiance slipping into my behavior, sometimes for no other reason than to be defiant. I would sometimes do things that I didn’t particularly want to do, just because someone told me not to do them.

This is yet another thing that I can look back and see in my parents, both of whom I suspect of being autistic. My parents had a lot of verbal arguments that I remember overhearing and finding very distressing as a child. I used to wish constantly that they would get divorced. I had a bedroom next to theirs for a time and I’d hear them arguing what seemed like every night. I hated the raised voices and I hated what they said to each other.

One of the frequent causes of their fights was technology. My father was an expert computer guy and would often buy the “latest” of anything newfangled that came out for my mother. He bought her a new dishwasher and a new microwave, both with a digital interface. He bought her a new thermostat with the same digital interface, rather than the dial-based interface she’d been used to before. And then he’d think my mother would be grateful that he’d bought her this wonderful thing. But she never ever was. She felt like he was trying to change her and that he was making a comment about her not being smart enough to use fancy, new things that she was supposed to enjoy. So she’d boycott his new thing and refuse to touch the thermostat and walk around the house freezing cold. She literally spent two years refusing to use the microwave at all and warming everything on the stove.

My father called this behavior “stubborn,” and I used to think that he was the king of stubborn himself, so it was ironic that he used it to describe my mother. Kettle, meet pot. If someone at the university or at church told him to do something, he would often do this exact kind of behavior to prove they were wrong about it and that he was right. He hated being told what to do with a passion, and he hated the idea that anyone knew anything he didn’t know. He refused to take his cars to shop for servicing and spent many a Saturday tinkering with a car until it didn’t work anymore at all because he didn’t know what he was doing. When my mother got hearing aids, he had to take them apart and see how they worked. But he couldn’t put them back together and he was too embarrassed to ask someone for help, so she just went without hearing aids for another decade until he could afford a new pair and he could pretend that he hadn’t been an idiot.

So I’ve spent my entire life trying to prove I’m not like either of them. But of course, I am. Genetics are awfully strong. You can’t stubborn your way out of them.

From age 5 on, I told everyone I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and my father spent all those years trying to convince me otherwise. I first got a degree in LITERATURE, something he called “a waste of time” and then spent decades of my life writing fiction, which not only was a waste of my time, but also made other people waste their time. I wrote mostly on topics that appalled and offended him, though he avoided this by not reading most of my books. Except when my mother insisted and read them out loud to him, which I’m sure gave her enormous pleasure.

I look back on a lot of my life now and wonder how much of it was designed simply to try to prove other people wrong. Recently, I’ve started working with a personal trainer via Zoom. And I’ve warned her that if she tells me NOT to do something, I’m sure to try to do that. I reverse all of her suggestions, as well. The first set is always the hardest and it gets easier as it goes along. At least, that’s how it feels to me. I love doing planks, though she says everyone else hates them. That makes me love them even more. And if she warns me not to put that much weight on a bar, you can bet that’s exactly what I’m doing to do. You just have to learn to work with me on these things. I can see what I’m doing, but I can’t change it.

--

--

Mette Harrison

Autist, Ironman Worlds triathlete, Writer, Right-Brained