Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Definitions & Applications

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There are many childhood problems that kids face these days-bullying, peer pressure, media influence, school issues. And sometimes kids have difficulties figuring out what to do to get along. This is normal and the childhood years are all about learning how to follow rules, adjust to conflict, and resolve problems. But when behavior problems become severe, it becomes a problem that must be addressed. What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Odd Definition

O-D-D (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) is a behavior disorder which involves extremely challenging behaviors on the part of the child, which create problems for them in school or home environments, or in the world, due to their overtly challenging nature.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is defined by the DSM-5 as a pattern of angry/irritable behavior, or vindictiveness lasting at least 6 months, and is exhibited during interaction with at least one individual that is not a sibling. (Source: DSM V-Revised)

We tend to think of ODD disorder as just something which affects a child’s relationship to adults who are in authority over them, such as a teacher, parent, or other person of authority. However, as you can see from the DSM’s definition, it is much broader and can include any angry or irritable behavior toward any person that is not a sibling. This pattern of child behavior problems can cut across any boundaries of relationships between the child and others and almost always affects his or her relationship to others in a negative way.

When we define defiance, and look for a defiant definition, it is often difficult to put our finger on what defiance really is. But simply put, it is any challenging behavior which is done in such a way as to be antagonistic, argumentative, or abrasive, and it is done for the purpose of gaining control over the other person and can be manipulative in nature.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Odd

If you think your child has symptoms of this disorder, it is not the end of the world. But it is a behavior problem that must be addressed as early as possible, so that a plan can be developed to help them deal with it. The sooner you can focus on the problem, the better your child may be able to deal with the disorder.

Dealing With Teachers

Does My Child Need Special Education Services?

Another issue which often comes up when dealing with ODD is the issue of special education. Special Education, based on Federal Law PL-94-192, guarantees a free and appropriate education to every child, regardless of their disabilities. ODD, since it is a behavior disorder and is present in the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), qualifies a child for Special Ed. services based upon the “Other Health Impaired” category, but only contingent upon their experiencing difficulties in academics in school. The law states that no student may be placed in special ed services unless there is an academic deficiency caused by the impairment or disability. In other words, your child may have ODD, but if it is not interfering with their academic progress, they would not qualify for special ed services. The law on special education is specific to kids who are struggling or falling between the cracks academically due to a disability that prevents them from achieving at the level they should be able to. There are many ways kids can qualify for special ed, but again, the academic deficit must be there.

What Usually Happens

Normally, though, when a student has ODD, their grades will start to suffer, either because they refuse to do the work teachers require of them, they have become a big behavior problem in the classroom so that they are often sent to the office and miss work, or other factors stemming from the disorder. If this is the case, and you notice your child’s grades begin to take a turn for the worse, you can follow these steps to see if your child qualifies for help at school through special ed services:

  • Ask for a referral form to refer your child for testing through the school’s special education services program.
  • Make sure that a psychoeducational assessment is given which will address both academic performance, IQ, and achievement. All of these components are important to see if there is an academic deficit caused by the ODD problem.
  • Only a doctor or Psychologist can diagnose ODD. Make an appointment with your family physician to determine if your child may be ODD. Then you can take this information to the school where your child attends and discuss the situation with school officials to determine a plan.
  • The goal of all of this is to determine first if your child has ODD, and then to determine if there is also an achievement gap caused by the disorder. If you find this is the case, you can opt to place your child in special ed services to help them get the extra help them need. Many special education teachers are highly skilled at dealing with such disorders and may be able to put a specific behavior plan in place which can be implemented across the board, in all classes. Doing this will help other teachers by giving them the support they need to deal with your child in a more positive fashion and avoid continual discipline issues.

Other Alternatives

If you do not want to place your child in special education, or if he or she does not qualify, there are other options. You could take your child to a therapist and see if there are unresolved issues within the family or other situations which can be helped by therapy. Oftentimes ODD is a result of pent up frustrations and unresolved anger which may be rooted in early childhood or could be due to abuse or bullying from other children or adults. Getting to the heart of what drives the behaviors of ODD and attempting to define defiant behaviors will help your child learn to adapt better in a world that requires dealing with some conflict and adversity.

Developing Skills For Life

The most important thing when we ask “what is odd,” is to understand that it is not always easily defined. Sometimes it involves inner conflict or personality problems as well. Regardless of the reason, it is important to help your child deal with their disorder and to learn coping skills, so that they can learn to deal with conflict as it arises and learn that being told something from a person in authority or other does not mean that the person is mean or bullying. Sometimes kids with ODD get confused and their belief system is messed up. They develop the idea that if someone tells them what to do, they do not like them or they are “being mean.” Rational emotive therapy, a cognitive behavioral therapy, is sometimes effective with such kids, because it goes to the thinking behind the behaviors and attempts to dispute the fault belief system of such kids, so that they see the world in a realistic, but not pessimistic way.

Hope For Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Nothing is hopeless…no scenario so bleak that there is nothing you can do. If you have had problems dealing with your defiant child, and believe he or she needs help, there are many resources to help with this. Start by talking to your school psychologist or guidance counselor. Even though school counselors are not as trained with specific clinical disorders as clinical counselors are, they may have resources that you can turn to for your concerns about child behavior problems. The APA (American Psychological Association) is the central federal agency/organization which oversees the revisions of the DSM and other psychological trends and rulings. You can find out more information about ODD and other child behavior disorders on their site.

Find A Support Group

Another thing you can do as a parent of a child with odd disorder is to find other parents who have kids with this problem. There is a certain comfort in knowing you are not alone in your struggles with these sorts of severe child behavior problems which helps you cope through the rough times that nothing else will do. Some local therapists even offer parent training classes or dynamic group counseling which focuses on child behavior issues and seeks to find solutions for parents through a systematic supportive approach with other parents dealing with the same issues.

A Word About Behavior Contracts

Finally, behavior contracts have been found to be highly effective with kids struggling with oppositional defiant disorder. These contracts are composed of specific things the child is expected to do, in return for something they find appealing, such as a reward or treat, extra time at lunch or recess, and so forth. The child also feels when presented with such special behavior contracts, that they have a “fresh start” on their behavior and they may improve their attitude toward those in authority because they believe the person in authority cares enough about them to help them, rather than judging them or writing them off as “hopeless rebels.” You might be surprised at the number of kids who view people in authority as the “enemy,” and more surprised at the fact that, if you show yourself a friend, and that you want to help them, they may change their thinking and alter their behaviors, and the situation may improve on its own.

A Parting Word

There are no easy answers for parents with kids with ODD. But there are resources and help to be found. Start with talking to your child’s school. They are there to help.

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