Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is behavioral disorder that generally affects young children and teens. A condition in which the child displays a lack of cooperation, tantrums and hostile behavior, this disorder is often confused as the “terrible twos” as well as the period of rebellious behavior often seen in teens. ODD should not be confused with these behavioral issues as the majority of uncooperative behavior from children is a part of normal development. When the behavior becomes a pattern and lasts for a period longer than six months, it can be a serious problem.


Common symptoms of ODD include, but are not limited to:

  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Swearing or the use of obscene language
  • Deliberately trying to annoy others
  • Being easily annoyed
  • Throwing repetitive temper tantrums
  • Hostility towards authority figures
  • Aggressiveness towards peers
  • Problems in school (academics)
  • Spiteful or vindictive behavior (seeking revenge)

Though these are common symptoms of ODD, many individuals who suffer from this disorder also display symptoms of other behavior or mood disorders. It is important to keep an eye out for symptoms related to depression, anxiety disorders and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).


There are three possible causes to ODD: Biological, environmental and genetics. Biological causes include damage to the brain, abnormal amounts of chemicals in the brain and links to other disorders. Damage to certain areas of the brain can cause serious behavioral issues in children. An excess of certain chemicals (such as serotonin) can cause an excess of neurotransmitters which allow the nerve cells in the brain to communicate with one another. When these chemicals are unbalanced, messages are not processed correctly, resulting in behavioral issues. If the individual is suffering from other disorders such as depression, ADHD, anxiety disorders or a learning disorder, the chemical balance in the brain may already be unbalanced, resulting in a high risk for developing ODD.


In order to be diagnosed with ODD, the child must meet certain criteria that are listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM is the manual published by the American Psychological Association and used by mental health professionals. Criteria for ODD includes:

  • Symptoms occurring for at least six months
  • Meet the majority of the symptoms listed above
  • Behavior must occur on its own, not as a result of other disorders

If these symptoms are present, a doctor will perform a number of tests to rule out other medical conditions as the behavioral issues could be a side effect for a physical illness. If a physical illness is ruled out, the individual may be referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist to undergo therapy to determine the underlying psychological cause of the disorder.


Psychotherapy (a type of counseling) is the most common form of treatment for ODD. Used for helping the child develop effective ways for expressing anger, psychotherapy can be done with the individual alone or with a family member. Family therapy is another method of therapy used with individuals with ODD to improve communication and build healthy relationships. Parent Management Training is another method used in which the parent is taught alternate ways to positively change their child’s negative behavior. Medications that are commonly used with ODD are used to treat other symptoms of the disorder as there is no specific drug for ODD. Medication used for anxiety, depression and ADHD are frequently used as the symptoms of these disorders are very similar to the symptoms of ODD.