Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
When “No!” Is the First Response, No Matter What

Is it normal for a child to say “No!” before a parent – or anyone else – even finishes a sentence?

It depends on the age of the child. When your toddler has just learned to talk and realizes he can earn a BIG reaction when he says the word “No!” he often uses it quite often at the beginning.

Later on, of course, he learns that saying “no” to his parents is not necessarily the right thing to say. Rewards and punishments meted out in accordance with the reason for the “no” soon teach him when and how the word should be used.

But what about the school child who is still in the “No!” stage?

Rochel, a third grade Hebrew teacher in one of the local girls’ schools had such a problem with one of her students.  Shaindy was a sweet girl, the fourth of seven children in an active household that never stopped moving.

Shaindy often had trouble sitting still in her seat, but was an avid reader and loved learning.  She loved Rochel, who was also her madricha, but despite the close bond between the two, Shaindy was unable to control one bad habit: she argued with almost everything anyone said to her. Sometimes she didn’t even know why she was arguing, and once she actually caught herself saying “no” when she didn’t even mean it! It was almost a reflex.

Shaindy was not nearly as good a student in English, especially in her math class. She hated learning multiplication, had no patience for division and was not particularly attached to her teacher.

It was no wonder that she was rarely cooperative in this class – but even Rochel, her beloved morah, was surprised at the reports from the English teacher. “Shaindy does not work up to her ability,” read one report. “She is argumentative, defiant and disrespectful.”  Shaindy ignored the teacher’s requests and often broke the rules in the classroom. The English teacher told Rochel in a conference held in the principal’s office that Shaindy indeed meant “No!” when she said it.

A follow-up conference with Shaindy’s parents revealed similar behavior at home.  With her father, whom she adored but rarely saw due to his late work hours, Shaindy would argue but could easily be convinced to cooperate. Even so, said her father, Shaindy’s first reaction to any request or comment was generally oppositional, even if she didn’t really mean it or understand the question.

Her behavior with her mother and siblings was a different matter entirely, and Shaindy was often outright defiant, refusing to do what she was told and ignoring the household rules.

It finally got to a point that Shaindy was kicked out of English class – and at home, she was in her room more times than out, because her mother couldn’t deal with her.  The constant arguing and her unwillingness to obey eventually led to threats by her mother of more and more severe punishments.

The school recommended an evaluation by a psychologist, which eventually led to a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), a disruptive behavior disorder that is exactly what it sounds like: oppositional and defiant behavior.Remember - when in doubt, rule it out.
Approximately 60 percent of school-age children with Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) also have ODD, although the condition also occurs alone.

Children with ODD – and their families – need behavior therapy, which usually includes a behavior modification plan that spans all the environments in the child’s life. Parent and teacher training is necessary as well, because carrying out a behavior plan is not as simple as it sounds.  It requires a person to set aside preconceived notions about children “knowing how to behave” and to simply stick to the plan, all the time, every time, absolutely consistently.

Not every defiant child has Oppositional Defiant Disorder; there are many other reasons for problematic behavior. But it is always a good idea to check it out.

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