Helping those with ODD
How can we support young people exhibiting Oppositional Defiant Disorder in academic settings? How can we help them to achieve and make them ready for work?

Transition to college can be greatly assisted by offering early meetings. Enlist the support of the school SENCO to provide some off-course support and behavioural goal setting, plus a named staff member (or mentor) to go to in times of stress. Preventative behavioural measures are more successful, less stressful and easier to manage than reacting to ugly episodes. Strategies are similar to supporting or teaching learners with ADHD. These learners are disorganised and/or forgetful and may need checklists to remember items for class. Repeat directions; write them down, say them out loud more than once and check for understanding. Sometimes it will be impossible to give more than one direction at a time and only the last one may be remembered. Teachers and learning support assistants should always check that the learner understands the tasks set, however long it takes.

Some young people with ODD find it difficult to be independent learners; their thought processes may be slow and their ability to recall a series of instructions can be limited. It is a brave learner who will admit that they do not know what to do even after an explanation. Loss of face in front of peers is unthinkable and, without appropriate support and explanation from teaching staff, a diversionary behaviour episode will often follow.

As a preventative measure, instructions for a specific task may need to be broken down into small chunks. Create a step by step process (task sheet) to enable the learner to remember each stage of the task and make the sheet available to everyone. Those learners who need it will not then have to request it. With the successful completion of each step of the task, self esteem is raised and the behaviour triggers diminish.

The following additional tips for a calm classroom may also be helpful:

  • encourage the learner to acknowledge the behaviours which are acceptable (and by default you will not acknowledge the behaviours which are not acceptable). This removes the opportunity for the ODD learner to try to justify his or her behaviour
  • crouch down, use deliberate eye contact and smile when speaking to the learner so that they cannot pretend “I didn't think you were talking to me” when they avoid action.
  • classroom rules and routines should be written in a positive way; avoid telling learners what they cannot do and instead tell them what they can do. For example, "No food and drink to be brought into class" could be written as "Food and drink must be consumed before or after class"
  • avoid confrontations or arguing back and always use a calm manner and tone of voice. Stay away from long discussions about what is right and wrong in their behaviour; tell them what you want and give them positives
  • avoid threats of disciplinary action as this will simply escalate the defiance
  • offer a structured time out

If a class rule is broken, the teacher should discuss this with the student in a quiet area in the classroom or just outside the door. The learner should be prompted as to what they should do in the future.

If your pedagogical approaches, your reasonable adjustments and your sense of humour fail to promote the required behaviour, and if your learner refuses,  denies and defies, you are left with few choices for that particular lesson. A cooling off period may be the best course of action, but always allow the learner with ODD back into your class with a clean slate and positive targets, and start all over again.

"Hilary presented information about various issues surrounding Oppositional Defiance Disorder and techniques for managing the issues.  We work with many young people with ODD.  It was an extremely useful session." 

Salford Foundation, Manchester