The Worst Part of Being Autistic: Demand Avoidance

Ok, as an autistic person, this is easily one of my biggest disabilities. It has caused me countless problems and misunderstandings. I’ve nearly lost jobs over this, and have many broken relationships becuase of this. And I’m confident I’m very annoying to supervise becuase if this.

Demand avoidance. Because of the way my brain works, I am unable to accomplish simple tasks simply because of the demand to do those tasks… they could be tasks I had already planned to do, but once someone demands me to do them, something is triggered in my brain and I’m no longer able to do them.

This isn’t about having a tantrum. Or being stubborn. It’s a disability related to the brain.

If someone tells me I HAVE to do something a certain way, I guarantee you, I won’t be doing it that way. Or at least, I will resist it at first.

I am able to do most things in life, if they are optional, and so I tend to view most things in life as optional. As soon as someone insists they become mandatory—“You have to do this!” Or “this is the only way!”—then this disability kicks in and I become unable to do it.

I experience it differently than this YouTuber, but it’s a good intro (see below).

The best advice, for those who love someone on the spectrum: keep the conversation open. Don’t insist or demand. Make suggestions and give them space to decide for themselves.

I find I can do things if I’m included as a legitimate and respected contributor. I can even do things if there is consensus, if I’m treated as a part of the decision-making. For me, demand avoidance kicks in the most when I’m dictated what to do without input or conversation.

There’s an extra layer to this. When people who have no right telling me what to do, tell me what to do… instead of simply dismissing it as irrelevant or inappropriate, I actually still experience demand avoidance. And I can appear obstinate to someone who isn’t an authority over me, which is confusing to everyone.

If you have ever worked with me, this is why I almost never make demands of people, and mostly frame my requests as suggestions or invite input. “I was thinking we should do this. But what do you think?” I do to others what I want done—at least I’m consistent. 🙂

Of course, this doesn’t always work. In fact, I might frame something as a question that is actually a demand. This also causes problems.

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2 thoughts on “The Worst Part of Being Autistic: Demand Avoidance

  1. This concept is interesting Joe. I can see that it may be a disability. But with that disability, how does someone best work on a team with their “demand avoidance” causing issue? I can imagine that from a co-worker’s perspective, it can look like:
    1. some one with DA is simply unproductive (cause they aren’t getting things done and their peers will want to ask about it)
    2. someone with DA is uncooperative (again, not doing things in their scope and co-workers wanting to understand why not)
    3. someone with DA is controlling (it all about when the DA person wants to do it, not necessarily when it needs to be done)
    4. and even abusive (only your rules apply here, not the common rules we’ve all work by)

    This disability can easily sound like excuses to others. How does someone with DA function and communicate their disability? Can they hold leadership roles with this disability?


    1. I think these points, while interesting, are certainly based on assumptions. To answer your questions: 1. Education and empathy go a long way to make a difference. Much more work needs to be done on helping work with people with disabilities, trauma, biases, etc. 2. I think on a practical level, you’re only a leader if people follow you. So in my case, I am a leader, because I am able to run a half dozen organizations—even with these challenges. It’s amazing what one can do when they work hard and are honest about who they are with those they are working with. Trust is essential, of course. But on a theological level, you’re only a leader if you’re called. And theologically, we know that God tends to prefer to call those with disabilities (aka weaknesses)—this is a central theme going all the way back to the call of Moses.

      Thanks again for commenting!


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