Demystifying Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

In an effort to help parents understand their differently wired kids, we are going to tackle common labels these kids earn. By examining their meanings, we learn strategies to support such kids. Today we start with Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

The official meaning of ODD is as follows: “Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a type of behavior disorder. It is mostly diagnosed in childhood. Children with ODD are uncooperative, defiant, and hostile toward peers, parents, teachers, and other authority figures. They are more troubling to others than they are to themselves.”

Children with ODD often question and break rules, throw temper tantrums, deliberately attempt to upset others, are easily annoyed and tend to blame others for their own misconduct. It is found in about 1-16% of the population. ODD is a highly controversial diagnoses and unfortunately there has been limited research in this area.  

ODD is a behavioral diagnoses found in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. There are 3 sections of symptoms including irritability/anger, argumentative/defiant, and vindictive.  And to earn the label, you do not have to have all the symptoms in each category. It includes such a wide variety of symptoms that each child labeled with ODD almost always looks different from one another.  The problem with this is that the strategies and interventions often do not work due to such a wide variety of iterations within the ODD label.

The controversy surrounding ODD is rich. Some say that the diagnoses reflects how children make grown-ups feel. Parents are feeling opposed and defied and they do not like it.  The label doesn’t tell us anything about what the child is feeling. It doesn’t address the child’s lagging skills, environment, or trauma. This diagnoses can send the wrong message to other adults in the child’s life. One filled with stigma, negative messaging, and conflicting parenting strategies. It also shames parents as if they created the child with the label. Having a child with ODD can make parents and children alike feel like failures. But you must move forward. 

There is not a test you can take to be labeled with the ODD diagnoses: no CAT Scan or MRI. There are no gene markers. Studies have determined that there may be a genetic component to developing ODD especially if their parents have ADHD, ODD, or a mood disorder. ODD is more prevalent in homes with poverty, chaos, inconsistent discipline, neglect, abuse and lack of supervision. It blossoms with trauma. Having an impairment in the part of the brain that manages reasoning, judgement, and impulse control is also correlated with ODD.

To make matters more confusing, ODD is often confused with DMDD: Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder, which is a condition that refers to chronic irritability and angry outbursts in children. While all children experience mood swings and frustrations, DMDD extends beyond age-appropriate emotional regulation. The main difference is that children with ODD have intent behind their behaviors: they want to scare and make others angry. Children with DMDD do not act these ways on purpose and almost always feel remorse after the episodes. Finally, DMDD is often a more accurate diagnoses with children from foster care and adoption.

Newer research suggest that taking a small dose of a neuroleptic medicine, like Risperdal, can have amazing effects on your child’s mood and ability to get along with others and follow directions. Therapeutic services will concentrate on parent training, cognitive behavioral problem-solving skills training, and social skills/school programs.

Not treating ODD or addressing the behaviors is never a good idea as it may develop into more serious mental health issues that may affect your child both socially and academically. If you stick your head in the sand, your child is at at an increased risk for substance abuse and juvenile delinquency.

If your child has the ODD diagnoses, do not despair. You are not a bad parent! Your child is not a bad kid! The diagnoses on it’s own will help your child get services like Occupational Therapy, Counseling and medication, which will all help for sure. Learn the most you can about the ODD diagnoses and all the interventions that best support your child. And make sure you share these individualized strategies with your child’s team at school and in their larger community.

Skip to content