EN&MH: Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Hey friends, today I want to talk to you about a disorder very special to my heart. I hear more often than not, “How is this even a real disorder??” Yes, that still exists. There are humans out there who deny the existence of mental illnesses. And today, I’m talking about Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD.

What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Out of all the mental health disorders I bring up, ODD is the one I am most often met with eye rolls. People tend to hear what ODD is and immediately discredit it. Oppositional Defiant Disorder by definition is the pattern of defiant and disobedient behavior aimed towards authority figures. It often has hostility, aggression, and argumentative behaviors. ODD is a disruptive behavior disorder that often does just that-disrupts.

ODD is a fairly common disorder, though the percentage of children diagnosed with ODD varies between 1-16%. It usually presents in late preschool to early school aged children. While the percentage of boys diagnosed is high at a younger age, there is very little discrepancy between the sexes by the teen years.

There is no known cause for ODD, however there are a few factors that have been identified over the years. These include biological, psychological, and social factors. These factors may all be present or not! Biological factors include: parent diagnosed with ADHD, a mood disorder, substance abuse, exposure to toxins, brain impairment or poor nutrition. Psychological factors are: poor relationships with parent(s) and a neglectful or absent parent. Social factors include: abuse/neglect, poverty, chaotic environments and family instability.

ODD symptoms and behavior is often times misunderstood as kids acting out. This is simply not true. While all kids can be disruptive and challenge authority at times, behaviors that are from ODD have a few necessities that aren’t present in every child. Within the spectrum of ODD  behaviors must be constant, present for six or more months, excessive, disrupting class or home life often and directed towards an authority figure.

Some of the behaviors present are:

-Questioning rules and regulations

-Refusal to listen to directions or requests

-Deliberately upsets or annoys others

-Angry and resentful

-Challenging authority figures such as teachers and parents

-Frequent outbursts or temper tantrums

-Excessively argumentative

-Blames others for behaviors

Do these behaviors or symptoms sound familiar? What should you do next?

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is diagnosed by a child mental health professional or a psychiatrist. The first step many parents take is to contact their child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician will see if there’s a physical cause for the behaviors and gather information on it. If there’s not a physical cause, they will refer you to a psychiatrist.

A doctor is able to find if your child is reacting to a specific situation or has developed ODD. A psychiatrist is also able to see if there are any co-existing mental illnesses present. This will happen through assessments of the situation, the family, and questionnaires filled out by professionals that work with your child.

While you may feel the push to solve what is going on in your child’s life as quickly as possible, it is not always the quickest diagnosis that is the truest. As with many mental health issues, it will take a professional awhile to form a relationship with you and your child. I am a fan of early diagnosis, because the earlier the diagnosis happens-the quicker you can begin treatment.

What Is the Treatment for ODD?

Like most mental health issues, ODD does not have a singular treatment that works for everyone. Home life, age, parental ability-these are all factors in which type of treatment works best for a child diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder. There are a few treatments that most often are brought to the attention of parents as options.

Family Therapy/Parent Training: 

No parent wants to hear that the way they parent isn’t correct. However a child living in the neurodivergent community often has different needs and requirements than a neurotypical child. Parent training and family therapy help caregivers learn how to react to and work with their children with ODD. It teaches positive reinforcement and appropriate discipline. By being able to manage a child’s behavior within the home can help a parent cope with the defiant and aggressive behavior. As a mother who lives with two children who struggle with behavioral issues, I highly recommend parents and caregivers finding therapy for not only themselves, but for any other children in the home as well.

Cognitive Skill Building: 

I actually love this skill building. Children and teens with ODD, or even in general, sometimes have a hard time responding appropriately to situations. Cognitive skills training and building is all about modeling the appropriate response to real life situations. Think of it as role playing! A situation occurs and your child reacts in a negative, dangerous, or inappropriate manner. Modeling the appropriate response outside this stressful situation teaches children how they should react.

Social groups in or out of school: 

Groups where children are able to learn how to interact appropriately within their peer group can be helpful as well. These groups can happen in or outside of schools. They can also help with school work and behavior within the classroom.


Medication alone is not used as a treatment for ODD. It has not been proven beneficial as a singular treatment for ODD. Medication can be used for coexisting disorders. If a child presents as having ADHD and /ODD, for example, medication can be used to treat their ADHD. By lessening the symptoms of coexisting disorders, treatment for ODD can become more effective.

Treatment for oppositional defiant disorder can last for a few months, a few years, or a lifetime. Though once believed to be something children outgrew when they entered adulthood, research has shown this is not true. A ODD diagnosis is not the end though. An early diagnosis and treatment can lead to a healthy and happy life for some. For some children ODD will go on to develop into conduct disorder or other personality disorders.

It is important if you believe your child may be struggling with ODD to seek professional help as soon as possible, as earlier treatment holds a more positive outcome!


One thought on “EN&MH: Oppositional Defiant Disorder

  1. This is a great explanation of ODD…I am a teacher and it is hard to suggest this to parents when you suspect a child may have it. We always direct parents to speak to their pediatrician. Like you said, getting help and support for your child is the most important thing.

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