Oppositional Defiant Disorder: What It Is and Diagnosis

What is oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn what oppositional defiant disorder is. Explore ODD symptoms and treatments and find out why it’s important to get help for children with this disorder.

All children may challenge authority or act out from time to time, but for kids and adolescents with oppositional defiant disorder, difficult behaviors are frequent and persistent. A child with the condition may be disruptive in the classroom and rack up detentions and suspensions for not following rules. At home, they may question their parents and blame siblings for their misbehavior. When punished, they might even try to seek revenge. If this sounds familiar, knowing more about the disorder can help you determine whether your loved one could benefit from treatment for ODD.

What Is ODD?

Oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD, is a behavior disorder that affects 2 to 11% of children. Young people who have oppositional defiant disorder are often labeled “bad kids” because they tend to defy rules. ODD can get in the way of developing strong relationships with parents, teachers, siblings and peers and lead to poor performance in school.

Does ODD Only Affect Children?

Typically, a mental health professional will make an ODD diagnosis during childhood. This isn’t because ODD only affects kids. Rather, the behaviors associated with ODD are usually so disruptive and troubling that parents seek help for their kids once they enter school.

In some cases, mild ODD may go undiagnosed until adolescence. Without treatment, a person with ODD may continue to face challenges due to ODD into adulthood.

What Causes ODD?

Researchers still haven’t uncovered the exact cause of oppositional defiant disorder. However, they have developed two main theories: the developmental theory and the learning theory.

Developmental Theory

The developmental theory is that ODD is a type of developmental delay. Normally, children begin to become less dependent on their parents and guardians as they grow out of their toddler years. Temper tantrums and defiant behaviors in toddlers are a normal part of the fight for that independence. According to this theory, children with ODD are stuck in the toddler phase from a developmental perspective and continue to exhibit challenging behaviors as they struggle to become less attached to adults.

Learning Theory

The learning theory is that ODD is largely environmental and that the behaviors associated with it are learned. It holds that when children primarily receive negative reinforcement from adults, they may act out in an attempt to get more negative reinforcement. This isn’t because they enjoy being punished but because they believe that it’s the only way they can get a reaction or attention from adults around them.

Who Is at High Risk of ODD?

Some risk factors that may make a child more likely to develop ODD include:

  • Being a boy
  • History of abuse or neglect
  • Having a parent or caregiver with a substance use or mood disorder
  • Lack of supervision
  • Instability due to divorce, moving frequently or changing schools often
  • Financial insecurity in the family
  • Having another mental health condition, such as an anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or a mood disorder

Although these risk factors increase the likelihood of a person having oppositional defiant disorder, it is possible a child can develop the condition without meeting any of the criteria on the above list.

How Do I Spot the Signs of ODD?

Often, educators, parents and caregivers can spot the signs of ODD. A child or teen with the condition may:

  • Lose their temper often over seemingly minor things
  • Become annoyed by others
  • Seem touchy and lack a sense of humor
  • Be angry or resentful
  • Argue with adults who have authority over them
  • Defy or ignore rules and requests
  • Intentionally try to annoy or upset other people
  • Refuse to take responsibility for mistakes or misbehavior
  • Plot revenge or act spitefully when disciplined
  • Throw temper tantrums
  • Use harsh or abusive language

Normally, mental health professionals make an ODD diagnosis only after symptoms persist for at least 6 months. Keep in mind that a child with mild oppositional defiant disorder may only exhibit challenging behaviors in one setting, such as at school, with friends or at home. Moderate ODD usually causes kids to act out in two settings, while severe oppositional defiant disorder typically involves behaviors in three or more settings.

How Is ODD Treated?

Treatment for ODD usually involves mental health therapy rather than medications. Some interventions used to treat the condition include:

  • Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT): During this therapy, a mental health professional sits behind a one-way mirror and coaches the child’s caregiver or parent during real interactions. The therapy helps the adult learn how to reinforce positive behavior and communicate with their child.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is an exploration of the thoughts and feelings that drive behaviors. A therapist helps the child understand why they experience anger and negative impulses and works with them to develop strategies to manage their emotions in various situations.
  • Family therapy: This therapy involves every member of the household, including siblings and grandparents who live in the same residence. A therapist works to repair relationships and improve communication.
  • Social skills training: A therapist helps the child learn how to interact positively with other people and to see the value in building relationships with peers. In some cases, this type of therapy takes place in groups.

What Can Untreated ODD Turn Into?

If left untreated, oppositional development disorder can lead to antisocial behaviors that could get an adolescent or young adult in legal trouble. Impulse control problems related to ODD may result in substance use disorders, risky behaviors that could end in injury or death or engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse ending in an unplanned pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection. Oppositional defiant disorder may also make a person at risk for suicide and self-harm.

Even when ODD causes only mild symptoms, the condition can negatively impact a person’s quality of life. Poor performance at school could limit someone’s ability to attend post-secondary education or work in their desired field. If the problems persist beyond adolescence, a person with ODD may struggle to hold a job and maintain romantic and platonic relationships with others.

Get Help for Oppositional Defiant Disorder

If a loved one shows symptoms of ODD, you have somewhere to turn. Restore offers inpatient and outpatient programs that help those with ODD learn to control impulses, communicate more effectively and develop social and interpersonal skills. Take the first step toward getting help by contacting us today.