Acting out on occasion is part of growing up, especially for toddlers and teenagers. But when do tantrums and rebellious acts cross the line from developmentally normal to pathological? When a child’s bad behavior and resistance to authority become chronic, he or she may be displaying symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Read on to learn more about this condition and what signs to look for if you believe your child may have it.

Background on ODD

According to Medscape, surveys estimate the prevalence of ODD at 2 to 16 percent. Before adolescence, the disorder is more common in boys, but is equally prevalent in both sexes after puberty. The symptoms of ODD typically manifest before the child is eight years old.

Comorbidity and Causes

Interestingly, ODD has a very high comorbidity rate (when a patient has two conditions simultaneously) with ADHD; specifically, about 50 percent of children with ADHD also have ODD. Experts speculate that the disorders often go hand in hand because the impulsivity associated with ADHD may lead to many of the behaviors indicative of ODD.

While there is no known cause of ODD, experts believe that neurochemical imbalances, a lack of supervision or consistent discipline, and/or a child’s innate disposition may contribute to the development of the disorder.

Spotting Symptoms of ODD

Parents’ first question is usually how to distinguish common or ordinary bad behaviors from the symptoms of ODD. For ODD to be present, the behaviors must be persistent, lasting at least six months. The behaviors must also cause obvious disruptions at school or home. As defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ODD is a “pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior” in which at least four of the following symptoms are present.

  • Loses temper
  • Is argumentative with adults
  • Ignores or defies rules or requests
  • Intentionally annoys others
  • Blames others for poor behavior
  • Is touchy and easily irritated by others
  • Is often angry and resentful
  • Is often spiteful or vindictive

Strategies for Parents of Children with ODD

The bad news is that the symptoms of ODD can cause severe impairment in every aspect of the child’s life. Children with ODD may struggle scholastically, have poor self-esteem, and have difficulty maintaining friendships. The good news is that there are several steps parents of children with ODD can take to treat and manage the disorder, including:

  • Therapy. Children may participate in psychotherapy individually and with family members to learn anger management, coping, and communication skills.
  •  Medication. Parents may also opt to put ODD children on medication. While no drug is indicated or approved specifically for ODD, some medications for depression and ADHD may alleviate some symptoms of ODD.
  •  Parent training. This strategy teaches parents how to deal with an ODD child in a way that is more positive and less stressful for both parents and children.

Because of the belligerence and contrariness that are the hallmarks of the disorder, ODD can be enormously frustrating to parents and teachers. With the right interventions, however, parents can improve the functioning of their child suffering from ODD to minimize emotional, social, and scholastic impairments.

Visit the K12 website to request additional free information on how parents and teachers can support students with ODD and other diverse learning needs.

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