Little Miss M, overcoming demand avoidance like the star she is! ⭐
We were at a safari park. We’d done all the walk-through bits and it was time to do the drive-through bit. She wanted to do it. She wanted to see her favourite animal on the safari, the giraffes. She wanted to see the lions and elephant (like Simba from The Lion King and Dumbo, two beloved Disney characters of hers). She wanted to accomplish and fulfil the plan and reason for going there but demand avoidance overwhelmed her.
Demand #1 – time. We know that having set times for things are demands for Little Miss M, so we’d told her she could choose the order we did things. This worked great initially but when everything else was done and the drive-through safari was all that was left to do, she no longer had a choice about when to do it and it became a demand. Add to this that the last entry time for the drive-through safari was coming up, so it had to be done at a certain time if we were going to do it, and the fact that the length of time the safari was supposed to take to do was too long in her mind, and time became a very big demand.
Demand #2 – transitioning/leaving. In order to go on the drive-through safari we had to leave the section of the park we were in to go back to the carpark and get in the car. Unless she initiates it, leaving anywhere and the transition to the car are demands which Little Miss M finds incredibly hard to overcome.
Demand #3 – being in the car. Having to be in the car in order to do the safari and not being able to do it any other way made the prospect of being in the car and doing it demands. Her perceived loss of control over how it was to be done overwhelmed her.
Demand #4 – the rules. No getting out of the car or opening windows and no turning back were more demands to comply with if we did the safari. (This was their language on signage etc. not ours, we are much more careful with the language we use so it’s less restrictive but there were safety rules nonetheless).
Demands were high and her tolerance was low. Usually, at home with everyday things, we’d leave it until her tolerance was highter before attempting something with so many demands but we didn’t know when we’d get another opportunity to come back or even if her tolerance would align better then either. If we were going to attempt it, today was the day and time was running out.
Mr M and I were fully prepared to skip the drive-through bit if it was necessary, but we wanted to try and find a way to help Little Miss M overcome demand avoidance for her, so she could do the thing she wanted to do.
Any mention of doing it triggered demand avoidance, ranging from her not responding to us to her changing the subject, distracting our attention and eventually saying she didn’t want to do it anymore (which we knew was demand avoidance manifesting and her way of feeling safe and in control again of a scary situation, rather than her not wanting to do it).
We stopped mentioning it and went with the flow, throwing all ‘plans’ we had in our heads for checking in to our accommodation and getting food etc. out of the window for as long as we could to try and allow her anxiety to reduce. We asked staff if we could just do the giraffes (at the beginning) and then turn back in the hope that having that option would help her to feel more in control of the situation and able to do it but unfortunately they said we couldn’t. Things came to a head when a sad Disney song was playing in the shop we were in and she began to cry. This release actually helped as it opened the doors of communication between us (until then demand avoidance was preventing her from engaging in any discussions with us but the song and her sadness were a catalyst / distractions which allowed a shift in her thinking).
We found a bench to sit on, hugged it out and eventually had a very brief chat about why she didn’t want to do the safari (the demands I mentioned above). Together and collaboratively, we found solutions and strategies which helped her overcome the demand avoidance response she was experiencing to the perceived dangers she felt from those demands.
#1 – we’d drive around more quickly than the advertised length of time it’s supposed to take if she wanted. The flexibility of this gave her a sense of safety and control back.
#2 – she could sit on my lap in the front of the car during the safari. The novelty of this helped distract her from the demand of being in the car.
#3 – she was Alice from Alice in Wonderland during the walk back to the car and she talked as ‘Little Teddy’, her fav toy as well. This roleplay removed her from the demand as it was Alice and Little Teddy carrying out the demand rather than her.
She was so glad she did it and thorougly enjoyed seeing all the animals and reading their information signs. She said she felt like she was actually in Africa. Part-way through the safari she asked to play with her safari toy animals which we’d bought earlier (she held races between the animals and asked us who we thought would win in between spotting the real life animals – she then controlled the toys and decided who won each race) and that’s when I took this photo. For me it captures her creativity, resilience and strength. Demand Avoidance may have still been trying to fight against her doing what she wanted to do but she won this battle by creatively finding a distraction which she had control of in order to feel safe and cope with it in her own way.