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Oppositional Defiant Disorder - Tips & Resources

Updated: Dec 23, 2022

Not everyone has heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), but it is a behaviour disorder that can be incredibly difficult for teachers to handle. The goal of a student with ODD is to gain and maintain control by testing authority to the limit, breaking rules, and provoking and prolonging arguments. In the classroom, this can be distracting for both the teacher and other students. Dealing with oppositional defiant disorder in the classroom can be difficult for even the most experienced and well-grounded teachers.

ODD is reported to affect between 2-16% of children and adolescents in the general population, and is more common in boys. Studies show that at least 40 per cent of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have co-existing ODD, according to the UK’s Learning Assessment and Neurocare Centre (LANC). In fact, in their own studies the figure was as high as 50 per cent for co-existence with ADHD.

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

While most kids go through a phase in which they try to test the boundaries of their parents and other figures of authority, oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavioural/defiance disorder that takes things to a different level. A child with ODD is argumentative, appears angry, aggressive, and irritable, gets frustrated easily, doesn’t respect people in a position of power such as teachers or parents. Oppositional Defiant Disorder can occur in all children, but research has shown that it’s more prevalent in kids with ADHD/ADD, conduct disorder, mood disorders, and anxiety disorders, and it tends to affect boys more than girls.

What Are the Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

In order for an oppositional defiant disorder diagnosis to be made, a child must consistently demonstrate the following kinds of behaviours* for 6 months or more:

  • Anger

  • Resentment

  • Hostility, even towards friends

  • Refusal to do as asked

  • Argumentative behaviour

  • Throwing lots of temper tantrums

  • Being excessively argumentative

  • Deliberately saying hurtful things

Some children outgrow ODD, whereas others don’t develop symptoms until they reach puberty, and while boys tend to display more physical symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder (aggression, explosive anger, etc.), signs of ODD are a little more subtle in girls (lying, refusing to cooperate, etc.).

Supporting Students with ODD in the Classroom

1. Use reward charts

Students with ODD do much better with rewards than sanctions. Sticker charts are a simple, yet effective form of positive reinforcement when helping kids with ODD. They can be used for a specific behaviour (aggression), or as a way to reward overall good behaviour throughout the day (being respectful, taking turns, using manners, following directions, etc.). Each time a child earns a certain number of stickers, a bigger reward is often given to keep the momentum going.

2. Praise positive behaviour both individually and for others to hear.

It’s important to remember that kids with ODD are subject to a lot of negative interactions throughout the day. Their parents, teachers, caregivers, and even their friends are constantly pointing out the things they’re doing wrong, and the long-term implications can be pretty powerful. So, as difficult as it may sometimes seem, try to find ways to connect with these children. Find out what makes them tick so you can appeal to these interests and keep them motivated, offer praise wherever possible, and find a way to highlight at least one thing these children do right each day.

3. Be clear and consistent with rules and expectations.

There will be days when it feels easier to give in to what the child wants, and while this may help you in the short term, it will make things more difficult in the long-run. Taking the time to communicate your rules and expectations at the beginning of the school year, and holding firm with them no matter how angry or argumentative your students become will not only help you remain in control of your classroom, but will also have positive impacts on all of your students. Even though they may not like all of your rules, the predictability and consistency you set forth will have a positive impact on their success throughout the school year.

4. Create a calm down corner.

Designating a certain area of your classroom as a ‘Calm Down Corner’ where students can take a break when they feel overwhelmed can be very powerful, particularly when it comes to helping kids with ODD. You may need to prompt your students at first (‘I notice you’re feeling frustrated. Why don’t you go to the Calm Down Corner to read for a few minutes?’), but teaching children how to recognize their emotions and equipping them with strategies to calm down before things get out of hand is extremely valuable. There are many things you can keep in your classroom Calm Down Corner to help your students gain control over their emotions, including books, noise cancelling headphones, calming coloring books and crayons, playdoh, and a variety of classroom-appropriate fidget toys.

5. Use visuals and give warnings before transitions.

Created using pictures, icons, words, etc., visual schedules are a visual representation of a sequence of events. Most classrooms use a basic schedule outlining the different activities students will be participating in throughout the day (this visual timetable is a great option), but some children benefit from a more detailed outline of exactly what will happen from one moment to the next. This will ensure they know what is expected of them so they can plan ahead, allowing them to remain more in control of their emotions. Giving warnings before transitions can also be beneficial in kids who struggle to move from one activity to the next. This is especially important when they are moving from a preferred activity to something they find less interesting. A Visual Timer is a great tool to use as it visually shows kids the passage of time, and providing a 10-, 5-, and 3-minute warning can also help make transitions easier.

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