Is it ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder)?

You suspect your child or family member may have ODD but how do you know for sure?  Well, what distinguishes ODD from children’s tendency to test limits is its severity and persistence.  A person with ODD will display extreme oppositional behaviors frequently over several months and years.

Another indication of ODD is the toll is starts to take on family relationships.  Daily frustrations build up over time from ignored commands, arguments and outbursts.  These repeated negative interactions start to damage the parent & child bond and create and reinforce hostile behaviors in the child.

If you notice a persistence or severity of symptoms (ex: arguing; refusing; defying authority & rules; blaming others for own actions; being annoyed, angry or vindictive, etc), you should seek a diagnosis as soon as possible.  You can start by speaking to your family doctor and explaining the behaviors and symptoms you see.  He/she should be able to refer you to specialists who can conduct evaluations.  For me, much of my son’s behaviors presented at school so the school child study team requested an evaluation.  When a school district makes the request for an evaluation, they typically pay for the expenses but families are subject to the providers and facilities they select.  If you choose your own personal provider, you will likely pay for the costs so check your insurance benefits & coverage.

I’ll never forget that day.  My son was 5.  By this point, I had observed an increase in disruptive behaviors especially at school where teachers were raising issues, over even the most minor things, almost daily.  The evaluation was held at Hackensack University Medical Center, one of the best hospitals in New Jersey.  The evaluation was about 1 ½ hours long and consisted largely of questions about the history of behaviors in various situations.  His father and I, along with school staff members, completed the questionnaire.  The doctor may have spent about 20-30 minutes with my son observing him and asking him questions.  Her diagnosis was ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).  She did not diagnose ODD but observed oppositional defiant behaviors.

Putting a name, ADHD, to the behaviors, at that time, created relief – because if you know what it is, you can begin to put strategies in place to deal with the disorder.  But at the same time, I was not entirely convinced about the diagnosis largely because there was no concrete, data-driven measure (ie: like we have with high blood pressure or diabetes) to prove that it was ADHD.  It was all based on observations and qualitative anecdotes by teachers, parents, caregivers.

The point here is, if you suspect that your child or family member has ODD or any other mental health disorder, please don’t hesitate to seek help.  It is critical that a diagnosis is made as early as possible so that you can begin the treatment process.  We would never ignore chest pains, sudden visual loss, excruciating pains, shortness of breath, etc. so we shouldn’t treat symptoms of mental health disorders differently.  Good luck.

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