Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Background

While oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) was added to the DSM in the 1980s, its existence and diagnosis is still hotly debated and somewhat misunderstood among families and educators. Surprisingly enough, ODD is one of the most common behavioral disorders to be diagnosed in children. Furthermore, researchers have also found that oppositional defiant disorder in both boys and girls is often accompanied by a previous ADHD diagnosis.

 

Symptoms

While ODD is a disorder that affects both boys and girls, symptoms are typically known to vary between the sexes. Though this is in no way absolute, researchers have found that boys with ODD display their opposition and defiance in more physically aggressive manners; their frustrations may escalate quickly and in more overtly explosive ways. While girls, on the other hand, are more likely to display oppositional or defiant behaviors in subtle, sneaky, or manipulative ways. For instance, girls with ODD may be deceitful or cunning and interact with others in intentionally uncooperative ways. Again, these are not hard and fast rules; they are simply some of the known observations experts have made between the genders.

 

It is also important to note that symptoms associated with ODD are typically misbehaviors that most children and teens will display at some point during their development. However, the difference between mere misbehaviors or teenage moodiness and ODD is the prevalence and severity of the behaviors. With regard to a diagnosis, ODD behaviors have likely become so frequent that they are deemed as the “norm” for that child.

 

Support in the Classroom

Behavior Support Additional Considerations
Disproportionate anger/frustration/

irritability

  • Provide student with flash pass to the counselor for when tempers flare
  • Allow student to take brief “brain breaks” throughout the day, especially when transitioning between activities or subject areas to alleviate stress
  • Provide student with preferential seating near the door for easy access to the hallway if frustration escalates
  • Provide student with fidget cube or stress ball to channel negative energy
  • Classrooms as a whole can benefit from stress-relieving or meditative practices, but these coping skills are especially beneficial to students with ODD; schools and counselling departments are beginning to focus students’ attention on mental self-care and coping methods to reduce anxiety and stress
Argumentative, uncooperative, defiant towards adults/authority figures
  • Present requests or directives in the form of an “either/or” question. For example, if a student throws paper off the desk, the teacher might say, “Would you like to either pick up the paper now, or pick up all scrap paper at the end of class?”
  • Remind student that his/her defiance is a choice that will result in a consequence; ask him/her if she would like to make a different choice to amend the tone/behavior/attitude
  • Stay calm; you cannot fight fire with fire. As difficult as it may be, teachers and other adults must remember that the ODD behaviors are stemming from a larger issue.
  • Deescalate the tone of the situation by maintaining a calm, understanding, yet firm demeanor. Act with care and be deliberate in your directives toward the student.
  • Remind students that you are there FOR THEM; everything you do is meant to ensure safety and success in the classroom. By reaffirming your desire to help him/her, a defiant student may soften the edge and be more receptive to your requests.
Physical aggression; vindictive, spiteful, or manipulative behavior
  • Physical altercations are never okay; remind students that verbal disagreements should never escalate to physical interactions
  • If something physical does transpire, adults must be sure to document the situation thoroughly. This includes all parties involved, what instigated the issue, and anyone who may have witnessed the altercation. Teachers should also note when and where the event took place so that administration and parents are made aware of the full situation.
  • Teachers can consider activities or brain breaks that either diffuse or expel aggression or anger.
  • Items such as Rubik’s cubes, coloring books, or sudoku challenges help students to come down off of the aggressive moment by occupying the mind
  • Consider creating a small, comfortable, secluded corner of the room where students can take a breath and collect themselves before re-entering the classroom environment
  • Teachers and guidance counselors can help to mediate aggression and manipulative behaviors by helping students to reflect on an incident. Prompt students to think about why they lied, cheated, manipulated, etc. Ask them what they could have done differently that would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

School Day of Nonviolence and Peace

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As much as we’d like to move on from the past, memories of the news stories involving school violence continue to haunt us. Anniversaries of the tragedies and “remembering the victims” news specials are an all too regular reminder that school violence in the United States is catastrophically unique, as opposed to the rest of the world.

As a teacher, I, of course, have theories as to why school violence is more prevalent here. My theories revolve around many of the same issues and concerns that surround the debate on U.S. gun violence as a whole—gun control, mental illness, instant national infamy via our media outlets, etc. We can theorize all day long, but that provides no solution. We must catch these tragedies before they occur—especially our school-related acts of violence. Tune-in, be aware, and look for the typical signs because all too often, where there is smoke, there is fire.

Signs that your child may be in trouble:

        – Social and/or emotional withdrawal: This can be difficult to identify, especially because of the hormonal, brooding nature of teenagers. When a child seems exceptionally withdrawn from friends, family, and usual hobbies, this could indicate a major problem.

        – Self-isolation: Children who shut others out and spend most of their time alone may be exhibiting signs of future issues. Spending time alone may be indicative of hostility or resentment towards peers.

        – Signs of rejection: Similar to self-isolation, children who do not have many friends or opportunities to socialize with peers may experience feelings of rejection. This could lead to hostility and violence down the road.

        – Being bullied: Research indicates that children and teens who have experienced bullying and violence are at risk for harming others in the future. Again, victims of bullying often internalize hostility until it has built up to an unmanageable level.

        – Loss of interest in school/and or other activities: Students who appear to have “given up” on their academics or are suddenly displaying defiant or aggressive behaviors are sometimes trying to say something without verbally communicating. This type of frustration and negative attitude towards school could indicate that a child is on the verge of more serious methods of acting out.

        – Expressions of violence or aggression on paper: This is a BIG one. If a child is struggling to communicate, socialize, or express themselves verbally, they may resort to other expressive forms. Journals, drawings, poems, or stories that display or discuss violence in an especially detailed manner are major red flags.

        – History of impulsivity, bullying, or insubordination: Students with a lengthy history of defying authority, breaking rules/laws, and deliberately harming others are displaying blatant signs of future violence. This type of behavior screams, “I don’t care what happens to me, you, or anyone else!” Children that exhibit this type of behavior before the teenage years have a much higher chance of engaging in school violence than other children.

        – Inappropriate level of interest or infatuation with weapons or violent images: Children that have an “obsession” with weapons, specifically firearms or knives, may be indicating signs of violent behavior later. Moreover, a child with an unusual level of interest in weapons, who also has access to firearms in the home, could pose a great risk.

There is no denying the severity of our nation’s problem with school violence. However, there are ways to restore and maintain the peace in our schools. It begins at home by knowing the signs of trouble and how to effectively intervene and provide support. Be available to your children, encourage positive social interaction, and help them understand the detrimental effects of bullying. Teachers must also be vigilant when it comes to identifying and reporting potential threats of violent behavior. Together, we can foster a safer future for our students.