Lessons Learned from ADHD & ODD

There’s a lot of things I probably could have done differently or better when it comes to raising my son, who has oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), early on.  It has been almost 12 years since his ADHD diagnosis.  I don’t say this out of regret but rather from a place of reflection, curiosity and an enduring desire to continuously improve myself and my/our lives.

When I read all of the research (or the few) about ODD, there is always mention of concomitant or co-morbid disorders like ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or conduct disorder (CD).  My son was diagnosed first with ADHD when he was 5; during that same evaluation, the doctor observed (but did not diagnose) oppositional behaviors.  Nearly 12 years later, I’m starting to make some connections between the two disorders and am wondering if better parenting & teaching strategies could have been used very early on to help manage the behaviors and the degree to which my son has been oppositional.

Experts have not yet been able to definitively explain why ADHD and ODD overlap but some believe it is has to do with ADHD related impulsivity.  Kids with ADHD cannot control their impulses and by extension their behaviors.  And depending on the presenting behavior and how often it appears (ex: “failure” to follow instructions the first time given), adults and everyone around them start to think they are intentionally disobedient and oppositional.  The cycle repeats itself again and again until the child feels negatively about him/herself and everyone starts to develop a negative, strained relationship with the child.

Children who have ADHD do not have the ability to control their impulses – full stop.  Because these children do not have the facility to adapt, to be flexible or to problem solve, their strong emotions (like frustration, impatience and anger) come out in the form of behaviors that are often off-putting to others.  So I wonder if perhaps oppositional behaviors are the means through which these children cope with their ADHD.  Whatever may be happening, I recognize now how very important it is for all caregivers to reset their own expectations of children with ADHD and ODD.  If we know these children cannot self-regulate, how could we expect them to easily follow instructions at home or at school?  And is it reasonable for anyone to be upset, much less negative, when a child just cannot meet our expectations?

If your child has been diagnosed with ADHD and/or ODD, I strongly urge you to seek support as soon as possible so that the ADHD doesn’t evolve into ODD.  It is critical to start treatment such as parent training programs or behavior management strategies or even medication, if you feel that is best for your child.  I also strongly believe that parents and all caregivers – especially schools – must learn to be more accepting, patient, compassionate and kind to these children.  Too often families, schools and society typecast these children as just bad and do not give them the chance to thrive and be the best person they are capable of being.

Could I have done a better job in many of my own situations?  Could I have been more patient, more understanding, more kind?  Absolutely!  12 years later and it is starting to make sense for me.  I have learned a lot about ADHD, ODD, my son, me and our relationship.  What he has needed all along is compassion and kindness.  His ODD has been debilitating for him in more ways than just physical – there is the emotional aspect to always remember.  These children need our help and it has to first start with our thoughts and expectations around behavioral disorders.

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