We’ve all seen that kid in public who’s throwing an extreme temper tantrum at the age of nine or ten, while his mom frantically works to figure out how to calm him down. And many of us wonder… is this child the result of neglectful disciplining or does he have something like Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
Is that even a real thing? Or are parents just using it as an excuse to explain their children’s bad behavior?
While disorders such as ADHD and ODD are absolutely, without-a-doubt, over diagnosed in the United States, the disorders themselves are actually real.
Scientists and doctors theorized about them for a long time by watching the behavioral patterns of both oppositional children and their parents, but they haven’t really been able to scientifically prove the disorders until recent years.
As it turns out, the brains of true ODD children are physically and biologically different.
Much like ADHD, the brain of a child with ODD shows noticeable differences in the frontal lobe. Perhaps this is why the two disorders overlap so frequently.
The frontal lob of the brain controls things like problem solving, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, social and sexual behavior, motor skills, and emotional expression.
Studies of childhood brain scans show that children with ODD often have smaller frontal lobes than their peers, or they have more slowly developing frontal lobes. This means they’re more likely to struggle with tasks like:
– Rational problem solving, which results in them seeming more irrational (and often placing blame on everyone else) than they ought to be for their age
– Impulse control, which results in them making decisions without thinking about the consequences
– Memory, which means they legitimately might not remember when you told them to take the trash out
– Language, which means they will struggle more than their same-age peers to communicate with you about what they’re thinking and/or feeling
– Reflexes, which means they might struggle with thinking quickly or moving fluidly in and out of the “fight or flight or freeze” state (they might be stuck in the “fight” phase, for example, which would cause them to be extra combative or argumentative)
Oppositional Defiant Disorder almost never affects a child without bringing another disorder alongside it. This is because the physical makeup of the frontal lobe is different, which means a massive percentage of the child’s functioning is effected. Odds are, there’s also something else going on, too, such as ADHD, highly functioning Autism, Conduct Disorder, or Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Kids with true ODD are the kids who argue for no apparent reason. They argue with themselves, they argue with things that they know to be true, and then they argue with their previous argument. It’s an almost-constant state of being disagreeable.
Or, if they’re not a kid who is confrontational enough to argue out loud, they’ll still find other ways to show you they disagree. This could look like disobeying, writing down negative comments (like, “You’re stupid!”), or ignoring you completely.
Many of these kids become combative when someone pushes back against their arguing, but not all of them. Some of them shut down entirely, which can look more like the “freeze” reflex.
Remember that these kids aren’t trying to be “brats” or kids who “rule their parents’ lives.” They’re just trying to cope with what their brain has given them as a priority. They feel the need to control their environments in order to feel safe.
It’s our job as parents, teachers, and fellow supporters to teach these kids how to be safe to themselves and others. It’s also our responsibility to spread awareness about the disorder so that people know it’s not a fabrication made up by lazy parents or bossy kids. We owe that to our friends.
It’s not a goal that can be achieved quickly, but it is a worthy goal that is worth our time as a society.