I first wrote this article for SEN Magazine and it featured in their August 2011 edition http://www.senmagazine.co.uk

The acronym ODD may be seen as rather an ironic one for such a misunderstood and difficult-to-determine behaviour disorder. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), however, is alive and well, and living in our college classrooms. Looking at research papers and observing young people who display ODD, I think that these symptoms were evident in some of the people I went to secondary school with in the 1970s, who were labelled “strange” or, indeed, “odd”. Our teachers did not cope well with ODD and the kids almost never went to college. Did these schoolmates go on to lead successful lives? I don't know, because they escaped from school as soon as possible and disappeared from sight. Now, though, college beckons and will soon be mandatory at age 16.

ODD rarely occurs on its own. Indeed, it is estimated that 50 to 65 per cent of children with ODD also have ADD/ADHD. 35 per cent of these children also develop some form of affective disorder, while 20 per cent have a mood disorder, such as bipolar disorder or anxiety. Personality disorders tend to be found in around 15 per cent of children with ODD and many also exhibit learning disorders (source: www.addadhdadvances.com). Young people with ODD often feel lonely, angry, tearful and frustrated without really knowing why. Transition to college can exacerbate these feelings. With a new set of rules and routines to navigate, a small perception of injustice can become monumentally inflated with one wrong word, action or inaction by a person in authority. Aggression is the greatest form of defence for someone with ODD and angry insults, spiteful comments and blaming of others can soon follow. Threats of sanctions or disciplinary action will do nothing to curb the torrent; rather they will escalate the defiant behaviour.

ODD is difficult to diagnose. While its symptoms are almost always evident at home, some youngsters with ODD sometimes manage to compartmentalise their poor behaviour so that it is not evidenced in other areas of their life. The majority, however, will display ODD symptoms across many areas of their life, including school/college. Behaviours can be masked for short spells when being observed or assessed, though, and symptoms may simply not be displayed when learners with ODD are being interviewed by a new therapist or teacher.

Experts insist that at least four of the identifying symptoms of ODD (DSMIV-TR) must be present for at least six months to correctly diagnose the condition. These symptoms are:

  • refusing to take direction or instructions from other
  • unwillingness to compromise
  • frequent arguing and talking back to anyone in authority
  • being easily irritated, angry and resentful
  • extreme negativity
  • deliberate provocation of others, which comes across as mean, spiteful, or rude behaviour
  • temper tantrums and outbursts
  • always blaming others or denying responsibility
  • repeated testing of other people's limits (ignoring instructions and arguing)
  • repeatedly getting into trouble at school/college
  • having few or no friends.

We could be forgiven for feeling disheartened by this list, as many of these symptoms are evident in many teenagers, but ODD goes beyond normal teenage behaviour and causes extreme anguish for families.

To see the remainder of this article go to "ODD Part 2"