by Caryl Harvey
Daniel asks to play with his toy cars in his bedroom. Ardith tells
him he can. At least it will get him out of her hair for a while. “But do not take them apart,” she cautions.
Within five minutes, the first set of tiny wheels hits the stair
banister. A moment later, a metal car body bounces into the picture hung on the stair wall and sends it crashing to the floor.
“Dan-iel!” Ardith yells. “Get down here.”
Daniel doesn’t come…right away. He waits for the third
scream…the one immediately preceding his mom’s angry steps on the stairway.
Finally, he comes downstairs and plops onto the couch.
“You broke my picture,” Mom says.
“It wasn’t my fault. Someone didn’t hang it
very well and it just fell off the wall.”
Ardith shakes her head.
“Now stay there until I say you can get up,” she says.
Daniel coughs. He coughs again…a protracted, gagging, fake
“Daniel,” his mother cautions. “Stop.”
“The fake cough. Stop it.”
Daniel coughs a few more times. He
starts kicking his feet against the sofa legs.
Ardith wants to cry, but she doesn’t. That’s one of
the first things they told her about dealing with Daniel: don’t react with emotion.
Daniel has O.D.D.—Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
What is it?
It’s a psychological disorder that looks a lot like ADHD.
Except in ADHD, kids create havoc with impulsive behavior. There is nothing impulsive
about the way Daniel acts…it is purposeful. He intends to disrupt.
What causes it?
Not a lot is known about the causes of ODD. One theory is that
kids don’t complete their psychological development. ODD problems seem to begin at ages 1-3. The thought is that some
kids just stall out there…in the terrible twos.
How do they know if a child has ODD?
There are some tests and symptoms. Generally, the therapists interview
the child and the parents as well as other significant adults in the child’s life. They look at medical history. ODD
is the most common childhood psychological disorder. Over 5% of children have it. And if a child’s parents are alcoholic
and have had trouble with the law, the child’s chance of having ODD increases three fold to about 18%.
The main symptoms of ODD are:
ü OFTEN loses his temper
ü OFTEN argues with adults
ü OFTEN defies the rules
ü OFTEN annoys people on purpose
ü OFTEN is easily annoyed himself
ü OFTEN is angry
ü OFTEN is easily annoyed
ü OFTEN is spiteful and “gets even”
The key here is the word “often.”
How often? It varies with the symptoms.
And ODD doesn’t usually appear
without other disorders. That’s called “CO-MORBIDITY.” The most common side-kicks of ODD are ADHD and/or
The first thing your doctor will do
if your child is diagnosed with ODD is to determine which, if any, CO-MORBID condition accompanies the ODD. Then they will
treat THAT condition. Sometimes that includes drugs like Ritalin or Strattera. Or your doctor may prescribe mood stabilizers.
Although ODD can develop into a more
serious disorder called “Conduct Disorder,” the good news is that most kids grow out of it.
But while they have it, they will
drive their parents to the brink of insanity. And the bad thing is that these kids are so hard to deal with that NO ONE wants to be around
WHAT DO YOU DO IF YOUR KID HAS ODD?
The first thing to do is to
ASSEMBLE THE TEAM. Meet with teachers, parole officers,
grandparents, aunts and uncles…any adult with whom the child has frequent contact. Why? Self-preservation. ODD kids divide and conquer. They are expert at getting adults
to sympathize with them…at making themselves the victims. They are very convincing liars. Make sure everyone is on the
same page with this child. At your meeting, discuss RULES.
Decide on a FEW behaviors you CANNOT live with. Pick your battles here, because you can’t work on everything
Decide on the consequences. Make these appropriate to the individual child. And don’t use money or anything you
buy to reinforce the rules. Use the stick and carrot approach, and make sanctions IMMEDIATE. (IF you do this, you may choose
what we have for supper tonight. If you do not do this you can’t watch TV
tonight.) Then make sure everybody on the team knows the target behaviors and
Be consistent, both in the rules and the consequences.
For older kids, you might even want to write out a contract and have them sign it.
And, chances are, you’ll have to change things up every so often…the child will “learn the ropes”
and your management plan will have to change to accommodate this.
TRY NOT TO REACT WITH EMOTION. I remember an old “Star Trek” episode where alien creatures created fearful situations and
then fed off the fear. Same idea here.
TV and VIDEO GAMES. Current thought is no more than 1-2 hours of TV daily, and DEFINITELY not right before bedtime.
SELF-CARE Get babysitters (probably people who don’t know your
kid, right?) and GO OUT once in a while. Find a friend to whine to. THIS IS IMPORTANT.
Then whine. Eat right, get rest and exercise. Taking care of a child with ODD
is NOT a piece of cake.
A SAFETY PLAN IN PLACE IN CASE YOU JUST CAN’T TAKE “ONE MORE MOMENT.” Have someone you
can call to come get the child, or stay with the child while you get away for a short time.
STRETCHING EXERCISES DAILY.
Why? So you can give yourself a daily
PAT ON THE BACK. You’re doing a great job. You deserve it.