Oh NO you di’int: O.D.D. and me!

My child, LittleJ, has been diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. This was actually his very first diagnosis, given to him by the child psychologist we saw when he was 4, as a screening visit before we went to the child psychiatrist who would then diagnose him with ADHD.
She said she thought he had ODD because, as he readily demonstrated in her office, HE WOULD NOT DO A SINGLE THING I ASKED HIM TO DO without saying NO, having a fit, calling me a name, and usually all 3. And yes I meant to type in all caps. The way I feel about my son’s oppositional behavior warrants all caps.
Let’s get this straight: all kids say no. This is a developmental stage that kids go through around 2 or 3. It shows that they’re developing independence and a sense of self and it’s nothing to be worried about. Oppositionality shows they’re moving past babyhood and toddlerhood into young kid-hood. But when the NO persists and persists and persists through age 5 and 6 and 7…this may be a sign of what some people call Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or O.D.D.
I say some people, because it’s actually a slightly controversial diagnosis. But more on that in a bit.
Anyway, the child psychologist told me she thought LittleJ had ODD and ADHD and then she proceeded to ask me how I was doing in a very kind voice at which point I burst into tears. Because parenting a child who is not only hyperactive, highly impulsive to the point of being a danger to himself, sensory seeking (another, different diagnosis but consisted of hurling himself against all surfaces in the hopes of getting proprioceptive input) AND who consistently did the opposite of what he was asked to do gets to be very, very, very, very exhausting. And depressing. And lonely. And she knew all of this because LittleJ’s behaviors were so obvious that she moved right on past asking me about my parenting techniques and right into assuring me that my child would get all services their practice could provide. Including medication. And by the way, did I need some too? If we had been at book club I swear that psychologist would’ve pulled out a bottle of wine.
For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with ODD, here’s what the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says about it:
Openly uncooperative and hostile behavior becomes a serious concern when it is so frequent and consistent that it stands out when compared with other children of the same age and developmental level and when it affects the child’s social, family and academic life.
In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning. Symptoms of ODD may include:
  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Excessive arguing with adults
  • Often questioning rules
  • Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
  • Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
  • Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • Frequent anger and resentment
  • Mean and hateful talking when upset
  • Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking
I seem to remember one website saying that a child had ODD if he/she exhibited these behaviors more than 3-4 times a week. HA!HA!HA! My child exhibited (and still exhibits) some of these behaviors 3-4 time a day.
Subsequent psychologists and psychiatrists (we’re with our 3rd practice now) have mentioned ODD in passing, but it’s no longer a diagnosis. It’s not that things have gotten better, mind you. In some ways things are a little worse as LittleJ has moved on from calling me a stinkerhead to swear words, and what was a developmental delay of a year or two has now morphed into a permanent part of his personality. A personality that needs to be managed, as opposed to enjoyed. The lack of an ODD diagnosis, therefore, doesn’t mean that it’s gone away. What it means is that it’s not actually a useful description of his behaviors.
Yes, he’s oppositional.
Yes, he says no to everything.
Yes, he picks fights.
Yes, he is purposefully provocative.
Yes, he takes pleasure in getting people upset.
But there is a real reason for all of this – and it’s not because he is just plain oppositional. It’s behavior that’s manifested itself because of all his other issues. And these need to be dealt with in order to make the oppositionality go away.
This is actually why ODD is a controversial diagnosis. People who don’t think it’s appropriate are acknowledging that it’s more a description of behaviors that are symptomatic of something else, as opposed to a single, discrete, and treatable situation. ODD actually has no real treatment, at least not in the medical sense. There’s no medication you can give children with ODD to make them better. You can treat other stuff that may be making the oppositional – depression, for example, or mood disorder, or ADHD (or other medical diagnoses that are linked with neurological function), but the ODD itself is not considered treatable. That’s because it’s a description of behavior and doesn’t get to the root of WHY the behavior is happening. I’m going to go out on a limb here and propose this: that ODD is always co-morbid with something else (even if that something else is parenting techniques), and if your child’s doctor is telling you otherwise it’s time to get a new doctor. If your child has ADHD and also seems like he/she has ODD, the best way to manage it is to treat the ADHD. The ODD will follow.
In LittleJ’s case it seems his oppositionality is a combination of early language delay (frustration) combined with his ADHD (impulsivity and frustration) and executive functioning deficit (again, impulsivity and frustration) plus a burgeoning mood disorder (anger, explosiveness) AND possible fetal alcohol exposure (more anger, explosiveness and frustration) plus probable attachment issues (mood, anger, depression) plus not-right-for-LittleJ parenting techniques (you name it we’ve done it) and family patterns (mom + dad both working full time jobs / no experience with special needs kids) have all managed to keep the beast alive.
Yes, I said it. I have helped create the monster.
Which is not to say it’s my fault or my husband’s fault. It’s not. But I have found that if I parent very intentionally I can manage the situation. And the only way to do this is to manage myself. I must remain calm at all times. Calm. Ohhhhhm. Nothing can hurt me. Nothing bothers me. You hate dinner? Oh well, don’t eat. You hate me? I know. No biggie. You ripped your homework to shreds? So sad, I’ll just write a note to the teacher. You want to stab your brother? Uh oh. Inappropriate. Guess you’ll have to go to your room now until you can be with your family again. You chopped all the flowers off the rose bushes? Bummer. Now you’ll have to use your birthday money to buy me some new roses.
La la la. I’m like Snow White with little birds flying around me, helping me be a calm and peaceful mama to my little Grumpy-Rude-Nasty-Button-Pushing No-sayer of a boy.
Now, I have not always been like this. Yesterday was a good day, but the day before that stunk. I have my freak-outs, to be sure. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned through parenting LittleJ it’s that freaking out gives him exactly what he wants and he will do ANYTHING to keep it going once it starts. I truly believe that in his head he wants peace and quiet and love, but the urge to get the big screaming, frustrating response that means he’s important and warrants that level of attention wins out every time. In order to combat that we need to give him the opposite of that many, many more times so a calm, loving, happy way of being becomes what he craves.
If your child has ODD, or you suspect ODD, I have a couple of suggestions for you. First, look into the Love+Logic method of parenting. This has helped us immensely! There are books, seminars, etc. that you can look into, but there are also a series of videos through MonkeySee by a Love+Logic trainer named Julie Greenlee that are wonderful. And short, so if your kid is making you nuts and you need a quick pep-talk you can watch for a minute or 2 and feel like you have tools at your disposal.
The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene, is a book many people swear by. Here’s Dr. Greene’s website, if you’re interested in his overall outlook on parent/child interaction. Personally, I found the techniques in Dr.Greene’s book to be a little too complicated for our situation. Too much talk, discussion, and negotiation for us. Maybe not for you. At the very least this book includes some very important information about why children can be inflexible and explosive and how best to manage them.
So – are your parenting an ODDball? If yes, I’m SO SORRY! It stinks, doesn’t it! Share your tales of woe as well as your successes. What has worked for you?

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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adhd behavior problems, ADHD medication, Adrienne Bashista, behavior modification, CO-MORBIDITIES, feature, ODD, treatment ·

About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.


  1. AuniLeigh says:

    I too have a son that they originally said he was ODD. Then 2 months later found that he was ADHD as well. So yes I have an ODDball at home too. My son's school let me borrow Love & Logic. I've only read about 40 pages and tried some of their suggestions and found it works. We did his homework the other day and we managed to get through 9 pages of work. I had started reading that book earlier in the day and thought I would give it a shot and only once did I start to lose my patience but I made myself snap out of it, and we again we accomplished 9 pages. Proud moment!
    My son is a 1st grader and well he barely attends school a full day. He is often in the office and being sent home, and then can't return the next day because of bad behavior. This morning I get a call @ 912 that he needs to be picked up and can't return until next Tuesday. We have a meeting w/ his counselor today and she will be able to guide us on the next step for medication. I am at a breaking point, but I have some really good people behind me trying to make sure that I know we can get through this too. I continue to read this book and hopes that I can alleivate some tension in our house, that seems to be falling apart.

  2. I love your explanation of ODD. I can see some of those behaviors/reactions in my kid, though very mildly in comparison to Little J. Thanks for sharing those links. I'm off to learn something!

  3. Teresa Harvey-Hopkins says:

    GAAHHH!! Adrienne, I feel for you, truly. While diagnoses give us some relief in just knowing what the heck it is, it doesn't give us any real tips on how to handle it. And let's face it; our kids don't fit the cookie-cutter textbook description of their diagnosis, either. They're little people with BIG personalities that have nothing and everything to do with a combination of heredity, upbringing, environment, and what God blessed them with. I pursued testing for my oldest two girls not because their behavior was frustrating to the breaking point with me, but because I began getting so many calls from their teachers…I didn't know what fit the criteria of “normal” when compared to other children because I don't have a lot of other moms to bounce ideas or trouble off of. I finally realized that my personal ignorance of the right things to do (whatever those are) and parenting inconsistencies might be exacerbating their problems. I'm constantly researching and trying to educate and better myself, to be strong enough physically and mentally to deal with their behavior. I've learned some great ideas, but if I'm not 100% with it every day, it doesn't work effectively. Honestly? There are days when I'm rested and in the groove and I can handle all they dish out with a SuperNanny approach that they don't dare defy. But quite a lot of other days, the whole of it exhausts me, and I'm not enforcing, or I'm losing my temper waaay too much. I've heard more than once that “God gives us the children we're supposed to have”, but sometimes I just want to slap the person who said that. I just think some kids have stronger personalities than others, and some are more readily compliant. I know as a child I wouldn't have tried half the stuff on my mom that they try to pull on me now, but I was afraid of my parents. I don't want to stifle my kids. I want them to speak up, feel free to be themselves, to be creative. But they have to understand that some areas of their lives need boundaries, and I have trouble getting that through to them. We as mothers have this hard-wired unconditional love for our children that makes us get up and do it all again the next day, in the hope that somehow, some way, the seeds of all our dedication and devotion and love and discipline and rules will have taken root. As my girls mature and I hold fast to *trying to* make them toe the line, some evidence that it registered with them is beginning to show. They are 8-1/2 and 7 now, respectively. It seems to be (hold on while I knock on some wood here!) getting a little easier. Childhood is a constant phasing in and phasing out of behaviours and stages, though; just as they are coming out of one storm, they head into the next one and their youngest sister assumes the one they cast off. UGH! Vive la Motherhood.

  4. I'm right there with you. My daughter was originally diagnosed as ADHD and ODD. Man, it got so bad that I was physically restraining her to keep her from hurting everyone else. The worst part is, no one outside the family sees this behavior. I know. And you are correct. She does not actually have ODD, but a mood disorder, and wow! How similar are the traits of the 2? The difference is, we have to treat both the ADHD AND the mood disorder, but like you, I have found that playing Joe Cool works the best. It is incredibly hard to remain cool as well.

    Have you checked out Have a New Kid by Friday? Not all of the techniques in it work for a kid with ADHD/ODD, etc. but there are some very good ones in there that I have used that have been highly successful too.

  5. This is such a serious and emotionally-charged subject and yet you explain it so simply and convey your experience through a bit of sarcastic humor I so enjoy. If we don't laugh, we'll cry, right?!

    Thanks for sharing these resources. I hadn't heard of Love + Logic before but I added links to it in a few categories in our sidebar and I hope to have the time to read more about it in the next couple days.

  6. dmd says:

    Can I give you a giant hug? I give you huge props for just going on day to day!

    I'm curious: When you get a diagnosis of ODD, do you finally name something you've seen since day one? I ask because when I first heard about it over the summer, I wondered if Dylan was ODD because he had gotton so defiant, but this was not how he had always been – as a child and toddler, he was the smileyest baby on the block – super emotional, but very happy and only the occasional “dark look.”

    Over the summer, though, it was a battle royale. Saying it was sunny out would get a swift and confrontational reaction. We were afraid to say or do anything. It got worse on Daytrana at first, but then it got much much much better. The Daytrana seems to help him relax and be himself again! Plus I've been giving him melatonin to help with the medication rebound and I think he's sleeping a much better quality sleep and as a result he sings – yes, sings – in the morning!

    Good luck, Adrienne! I look forward to learning more about your journey and will pray that I'll be hearing about your and Little J's successes.


  7. Carolynn says:

    All I can say is 'thank you'. I needed to read this today. It was a particularly difficult ADHD/ODD day (he rode to school in the car naked and unbuckled). ODD kids are posterchildren for child abuse. It would be very easy for a parent of an ODD child to cross the line, especially if said parent has no support system.

    As for medication, well, we are on the buy 3 get Mommy free program. The thought being that if Mom has 3 ADHD kids (one with ODD) who are medicated, then Mom will need some pharmacological help to cope at some point.

  8. Holy crow! Some impassioned responses. I always say that us mamas + papas of tricky kids need to stick together. It is HARD! And no one really gets it but us.
    Thanks so much for all of this – the commiseration, the hugs, everything. When I went to get LittleJ at school and the first thing that happened as we pulled out of the parking lot is he told me the dinner I planned was disgusting and that his brother was a bi&ch – I thought of this post and the great comments you all have given me and I just smiled and tried to channel the mother I wish I was!
    @AuniLeigh, @Teresa, @TheDramaMama and @Carolynn – I am thinking good thoughts for you. This is a really, really tough job that I know none of us thought we were signing up for.
    @dmd I'm glad the melatonin is working for you. LittleJ takes it as well and it really helps his sleep. He had no “off” switch at night. Sleep is so, so important for our kids, as is good nutrition. It's important for all kids but it seems like the response is magnified with kids who are oppositional.
    @Carolynn I love this about the naked and unbuckled. Love it. I could've written it! I was so happy when a Sheriff's deputy moved in down the street for a while b/c it was the ONLY thing that got LittleJ buckled in the morning – the threat to pull into that driveway. I would've never done it – I think the guy worked nights – but the threat was enough. I'm a little sad he moved away.
    Oh, I have some stories like these!

  9. melissa Johnston says:

    Adrienne…from one ODD Mama to another…you couldn't have said it better. Now my son is not diagnosed ODD (yet) I NO (know) haahaa! he is. We go Monday finally for the full pyschiatric evaluation. Two questions…what is the difference between mood disorder and ODD? My son is on Intuniv and that moodiness and ODD behavior went away. Have u tried Intuniv? Thank you for a GREAT article. I love your humor and can relate. 😉

  10. @Melissa –
    We did try Intuniv and it didn't do anything, although I've heard it's effective for many people. LittleJ takes Depakote for his mood “swings” – this after trying everything else, it seems.
    I did a quick search for “mood disorder” and it's just what I thought: cyclic mania/depression or both mixed together. LittleJ has been mostly mixed although we've seen them separate as well. Some people consider this childhood bipolar but that's a very controversial dx.
    Good luck!

  11. Jill says:

    What a great post! I've been thinking about ODD lately and could really identify with your post, Adrienne. Have read both Love & Logic (a couple of their books) and The Explosive Child. Thank you for sharing.

    Drama Mama, one of the hardest things for me through the years IS the fact that no one else typically sees it!

    Carolynn, thanks for sharing your day and thoughts too. Normalizes some stuff for us. We had a rough trip to the bus stop today too (and she loves school!)

  12. This is really good! I've a very close friend who deals with this daily. She has an autistic daughter who also has ADD and a son with ADD. It's really a difficult time.


  13. Anonymous says:

    Came across this post today and it was JUST what I needed–a good laugh!! 🙂 Single mom of an ADD son, this all rings home perfectly (especially the comment above of driving to school naked and unbuckled!) Glad to have found a source of humor in what is often (as we all know) an exhausting and draining situation. –Ashley

    Thank you ALL for the laugh and the insight!

  14. chaos mom says:

    OMG, I know this is an old post, but I just found this blog recently.  I totally could’ve written this post!  Almost word for word.  My DS was diagnosed with ODD at 3.5 and ADHD at 4!  Love your bluntness about his behavior…soo true…snot-nose little brats they are. 😉


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