What Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder? An understanding definition is given, as well as suggestions for how to encourage cooperation from the child.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV), which is the manual that psychotherapists use to make diagnoses, the essential feature of Oppositional Defiant Disorder is a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior that is more common than that seen in other young people of the same mental age.

Most of the parents', teachers', and school counselors' report that these children are argumentative with adults, frequently lose their temper, swear, and are often angry and/or easily annoyed or provoked by others. In addition, they tend to blame others for their own mistakes and behaviors.

It is important for professionals to understand that these behaviors are present in the home, but may or may not be present at school or with adults or peers and vice versa. In some cases, symptoms, from the beginning of the disturbance, are displayed in areas outside the home. However, in other examples, they start in the home, but later develop in areas outside the home.

What is typical is that symptoms of this disorder are more evident in interactions with adults or peers whom the child knows well. Therefore, clinicians who examine the children often do not see these behaviors in an initial interview. Moreover, when asked directly aboout being oppositoinal or defiant, the children tend to not identify themselves with the traits; instead, they justify the behavior as a response to unreasonable circumstances.

What is also interesting about this disorder is that it will often encourage children to defy or refuse adult requests or rules, even if a reward is dangled as a consequence to the obedience. The capacity for vindictiveness or spite is also extreme in these children. If they believe they have been 'done wrong,' they will create retaliations that can be quite cruel.

Due to the pain that these symptoms cause for those who are closely tied to children who have this disorder, parents, teachers and school counselors can be taxed of their resources in trying to help these children. Moreover many professionals and others report frustration that they have conflicts with providing these children with the attention they demand. Many feel as though they then are neglecting other children, either in the household or in school in the name of focusing on containing the outbursts of the disorder.

However, research has been able to conclude that these children are not 'incurable' and that there are interventions that can empower both the adults as well as the children who have the disorder. What is most important in the addressing of the issues with these children is that all of the adults need to become aligned with one another and not polarized away from one another. It is too easy for adults to channel their frustrations onto other adults who are apart of these children's lives, and in so doing, to funnel blame onto a source that maybe appears to have the capacity for greater change; however, the splitting ends up hurting the progress that intervention could provide.

Moreover, within the complexion of symptoms that children with this disorder manifest lies the key as to how to proceed. For instance, one of the reasons that children have authority issues may be that they need opportunities to display leadership. In so providing these opportunities, teachers and others can see the potential these children have for authority. Moreover, the children will learn empathy for what it feels like when they see other children waning in enthusiasm for their ideas or methods. The point is that perhaps the energy can be channeled into positive enterprises from which their peers can benefit.

At the same time that adults are providing opportunities for leadership, they should also work together to 'extinct' all of the negative behaviors that appear to be habitual. For instance, one of the greatest issues that these children appear to have is that they are neither embarrassed by, nor do they seem to feel ashamed by, their negative behavior. Instead, adults should work together to eliminate an audience for their tantrums in public. This means that either others should walk away or the children should be isolated from the rest of the class or family. In this manner, children will learn that no one pays attention to them when their behavior is 'unsocial.'

In addition, although many parents are uncomfortable with the idea of medicating their children, children who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder seem to benefit from certain types of antidepressants or other pharmaceutical interventions. Some professionals urge parents to allow a testing period to see if they too might not see a difference in their child's behavior as a result of this type of intervention. In this manner, the parents are allowed to make a long-term decision after they have seen what the medication is able to do. No one should feel coerced into participating in the children's best interest, and providing a testing period allows everyone to document possible changes in the children's behaviors.

One 'fanning flame' that adults must be alert for is their attitude toward children who have this disorder. Unfortuntely, rather than these visual or nonverbal cues of disapproval motivating the children, they tend to encourage even greater anger and consequential outburst from them. If necessary, ventilate frustration and disapproval to friends and co-workers. Instead, show the children neutrality when interacting with them. This neutrality is another way of 'extincting' the impact that their behavior has on others.

Most of all, remember that humans use the behaviors that are apart of what they know. It is natural to try the same behavior repeatedly if there is no other that has been learned. Teaching these children how to make "I" statements that express what they see, what they feel, and what they want is one way of adding to the repertoire of behaviors available to them. Teaching them how to accept feedback, especially from peers without interruption or defense is another toll that can be added to communication skills. Encouraging the children to iterate what they think they had heard from others before responding also identifies possible misunderstood communications. Finally, encouraging them to respond with what they think AND what they are willing to do to cooperate or compromise also teaches them to interact in a positive way. These tools for communication will go along way to eliminating tantrums and retaliations.

In conclusion, if the interventions above do not seem to make headway, consider outside help. Look for a state or nationally licensed therapist whose expertise includes working with children who have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Such a therapist can identify other variables that might be adding to the internal friction within the child. These issues are surmountable but do require much commitment on the part of those who are in the child's world.

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