If you've never heard of ODD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, don't worry. Most people never hear of it until their child is diagnosed with it, especially since it usually goes hand-in-hand with other conditions. In my son's case, it's ADHD. ADHD, in itself, can be a scary diagnosis. Many people think ADHD is a made-up or exaggerated condition. I’m sure there are many children who are misdiagnosed, but ADHD, in its truest form, is life-altering. Children with ADHD have problems in school and in social settings. They have poor impulse control, leading them to act inappropriately and often causing them to lash out physically. They have difficulty reading social cues (facial expressions, tone of voice, etc), and often have trouble making/keeping friends.
Approximately 35% of kids with ADHD also have ODD, which is characterized by disobedient, defiant, and hostile behaviour towards authority figures. There is truly nothing misleading about the name…kids with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are exactly that. They are oppositional and they are defiant. They have no fear of authority or consequences. Children with ODD tend to be very angry and easily provoked. Studies around the world have shown that approximately 25% of the prison population has ADHD, which is not surprising when you take into account the ODD correlation. In addition, it is estimated that approximately 30% of kids with ODD go on to develop a conduct disorder, which is characterized by behaviour outside of societal norms (violence, destruction of property, etc.). As a parent, this is a terrifying prospect.
Kids with ODD do not bend to the will of others, so there is no bribing them or punishing them for them transgressions. In fact, the more you try to coerce or punish, the harder kids with ODD fight. Instead, it requires a completely different type of parenting, one that involves working with your child to find a mutually acceptable solution to whatever problem you’re dealing with. Kids with ODD want to be in control, so you have to make them feel like they are in control while still maintaining the control yourself. And while this sounds great in theory, try it with a 5 year old whose ability to reason hasn’t developed yet. In fact, the part of the brain that controls emotions, time, impulse, etc. is the exact part that hasn’t developed properly in kids with ADHD and ODD, so it’s a double challenge.
While parenting a child with ADHD and ODD is challenging (to say the least, trust me), it can also be very rewarding. The impulse control issues that cause my son to throw things at my head are the very same ones that cause him to go running through a room yelling "I love you, Mommy!"
If you suspect your child might have ADHD and/or ODD, get yourself (not to mention your child) some help. These are not imagined disorders and these are not bad kids. With the proper medical attention and behavioural therapy, not to mention a whole lot of love and understanding, kids with ADHD and ODD can flourish. And so can their parents. I promise.