Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

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What Parents Need to Know About Oppositional Defiant Disorder in Their Child

It's not unusual for kids -- especially those in their "terrible twos" and early teens -- to defy authority every now and then. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their moms and dads, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual for the youngster's age, it may mean that the child has a type of behavior disorder called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

ODD is a condition in which a youngster displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, hostile, and annoying behavior toward people in authority. The child's behavior often disrupts the child's normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

Many kids and adolescents with ODD also have other behavioral problems, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, mood disorders (such as depression), and anxiety disorders. Some kids with ODD go on to develop a more serious behavior disorder called conduct disorder.

Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder—

Symptoms of ODD may include:
  • Actively refusing to comply with requests and rules
  • Being spiteful and seeking revenge
  • Blaming others for your mistakes
  • Deliberately trying to annoy or upset others, or being easily annoyed by others
  • Excessively arguing with adults
  • Having frequent outbursts of anger and resentment
  • Saying mean and hateful things when upset
  • Swearing or using obscene language
  • Throwing repeated temper tantrums

In addition, many kids with ODD are moody, easily frustrated, and have a low self-esteem. They also may abuse drugs and alcohol.

Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder—

The exact cause of ODD is not known, but it is believed that a combination of biological, genetic, and environmental factors may contribute to the condition.

Genetics: Many kids and adolescents with ODD have close family members with mental illnesses, including mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. This suggests that a vulnerability to develop ODD may be inherited.

Environmental: Factors such as a dysfunctional family life, a family history of mental illnesses and/or substance abuse, and inconsistent discipline by moms and dads may contribute to the development of behavior disorders.

Biological: Some studies suggest that defects in or injuries to certain areas of the brain can lead to serious behavioral problems in kids. In addition, ODD has been linked to abnormal amounts of special chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly, messages may not make it through the brain correctly, leading to symptoms of ODD, and other mental illnesses. Further, many kids and adolescents with ODD also have other mental illnesses, such as ADHD, learning disorders, depression, or an anxiety disorder, which may contribute to their behavior problems.

How Common Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Estimates suggest that 2%-16% of kids and adolescents have ODD. In younger kids, ODD is more common in boys. In older kids, it occurs about equally in boys and in girls. It typically begins by age 8.

How Oppositional Defiant Disorder is Diagnosed—

Mental illnesses in young people are diagnosed based on signs and symptoms that suggest a particular illness like ODD. If symptoms are present, the doctor will begin an evaluation by performing a complete medical history and physical exam. Although there are no lab tests to specifically diagnose ODD, the doctor may use various tests -- such as X-rays and blood tests -- to rule out physical illness or medication side effects as the cause of the symptoms. The doctor also will look for signs of other conditions that often occur along with ODD, such as ADHD and depression.

If the doctor cannot find a physical cause for the symptoms, he or she may refer the youngster to a child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist, mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses in kids and adolescents. Psychiatrists and psychologists use specially designed interview and assessment tools to evaluate a youngster for a mental illness. The doctor bases his or her diagnosis on reports of the child's symptoms and his or her observation of the child's attitude and behavior. The doctor often must rely on reports from the child's moms and dads, teachers, and other adults because kids often have trouble explaining their problems or understanding their symptoms.

How Oppositional Defiant Disorder is Treated—

Treatment for ODD is determined based on many factors, including the youngster's age, the severity of symptoms, and the child's ability to participate in and tolerate specific therapies. Treatment usually consists of a combination of the following:
  • Medication: While there is no medication formally approved to treat ODD, various drugs may be used to treat some of its distressing symptoms, as well as any other mental illnesses that may be present, such as ADHD or depression.
  • Psychotherapy: Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) is aimed at helping the youngster develop more effective ways to express and control anger. A type of therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy aims to reshape the child's thinking (cognition) to improve behavior. Family therapy may be used to help improve family interactions and communication among family members. A specialized therapy technique called parent management training (PMT) teaches moms and dads ways to positively alter their youngster's behavior.

Outlook for Kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder—

If your youngster is showing signs of ODD, it is very important that you seek care from a qualified doctor immediately. Without treatment, kids with ODD may experience rejection by classmates and other peers because of their poor social skills and aggressive and annoying behavior. In addition, a youngster with ODD has a greater chance of developing a more serious behavioral disorder called conduct disorder. Treatment is usually very effective when started early.


Although it may not be possible to prevent ODD, recognizing and acting on symptoms when they first appear can minimize distress to the youngster and family, and prevent many of the problems associated with the illness. Family members also can learn steps to take if signs of relapse (return of symptoms) appear. In addition, providing a nurturing, supportive, and consistent home environment with a balance of love and discipline may help reduce symptoms and prevent episodes of defiant behavior.

==> My Out-of-Control Child: Parenting Children With Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Anonymous said...

Dear Mark:
Thank you for all the good help you offer through your program.

Unknown said...

If a child had this, would it manifest in all areas of the child's life? Or could they display this say only with one parent, and be a total angel with the other parent?


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