Oppositional Defiant Disorder is, in my book, a red flag. It is an indication that there is something else going on. I have never… seen a kid that meets criteria for ODD and did not meet criteria for some other diagnosis. It is as if the oppositional and defiant behavior is a coping strategy for dealing with other issues, or a poorly functional reaction to other issues that are NOT being dealt with. Dr. Dan Hartman MD
ODD is a psychiatric disorder, the definite causes of which are unknown, although biological and environmental factors may have a role to play. The hallmark of ODD is a recurrent pattern of negative, defiant, disobedient and hostile behaviour towards authoritative figures in particular that continues for at least six months, during which four or more of the following are present:
- often loses temper
- often argues with adults
- often actively defies/refuses to comply with adults’ requests or rules
- often deliberately annoys people
- often puts the blame for own mistakes or behaviour on others
- often is easily upset or annoyed by others
- often is angry and resentful
- often is spiteful and vindictive
The disturbance in behaviour causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic and/or occupational functioning. Students with ODD possess a ‘counter-will’: the more pressure one applies the greater the opposition. Actions are premeditated and often the student may want confrontation. Typically, in the school situation the student with ODD will be aggressive and will purposefully bother and irritate others.
It is exceptionally rare for a student to present with ODD alone: usually students have other neuropsychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, conduct disorder (CD) and bipolar disorder. Students may also present with Tourette syndrome or other special educational needs.
Strategies for Learning and Teaching
- It is important to empathise with the student and understand that you are not the cause of defiance, but rather, its outlet.
- Allow students to help others in their areas of strength.
- Develop a self-esteem programme and explicitly teach social skills.
- Seat student near a good role model.
- Identify skills or attributes that you can positively reinforce.
- Remain positive; give praise and positive reinforcement when the student demonstrates flexibility and/or co-operation.
- Be approachable and act as a positive role model.
- Develop classroom rules and a daily schedule so the student knows what to expect. Use visual cues to assist students who may have literacy difficulties. Prioritising rules for the student is also useful.
- Consistency of application of agreed rules by all stakeholders in the school is needed with students with ODD. Rules need to be realistic, specific, consistent and proactive.
- Differentiate teaching to meet identified needs.
- Adopt a structured approach to teaching learning and behaviour targets.
- Be aware that structure is required throughout the school day, including during non-structured periods such as break times.
- Programmes that deal with anger management and foster emotional intelligence can be effective for these students.
- Work in partnership with parents and/or carers.
- Put a reward system in place where the student values the outcome.
- Set targets for behaviour an learning that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and within a timescale (SMART).d
- Create workstations where the students can listen to their choice of music and work independently. Use earphones with controlled volume to avoid disruption to other students.
- Consider peer mentoring with other students.
- Have an optional exit strategy in place for the student (e.g. student has a red card).
- Build relationships with other students through Circle Time activities, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), drama and role play.
- Remember rewards work better than sanctions for these students.
- Implement a behaviour contract with the student and ask for the student’s suggestions on ways to improve behaviour.
- Minimise distractions.
- Minimise transitions and where transitions are necessary ensure they are clearly signalled. Consider the use of a song, a sound, a gesture or an object.
- Identify what triggers the student’s behaviour: look at the antecedents (what happened before the problem behaviour), the behaviour, and the consequences of the behaviour. This is referred to as the ABC approach to managing behaviour.
- Give the student additional responsibilities. Allow the student to get used to carrying out small and reasonable requests.
- Provide the student with a choice of outcome where possible as it can help to avoid tension and negativity (e.g. if a student is using a mobile phone in class the teacher may offer a choice of outcome to the infringement of a rule by asking the student to either put the phone away or leave it on the teacher’s desk until the end of class). This appears less confrontational to the student.
- Reward the student after short periods of success.
- Reward student effort as much as achievement.
- Break tasks into small manageable chunks.
- Agree methods by which the student can engage your attention.
- Allocate clear roles to all members during group work.
- Focus on the incident not the student and focus on as few behaviours as possible – perhaps even one – at a time. Decide what behaviour you will ignore and what you will not accept. Communicate clearly the consequences for the behaviours you will not accept.
- Avoid raising your voice or exhibiting any emotion. Be neutral and speak calmly, saying something similar to ‘As you broke this rule this is what you will have to do’. Be like a referee, who simply states the consequence and holds the player accountable.
- Do not allow the student an opportunity to argue.
- For students who have difficulties with change consider the use of a visual timetable. This may have sequential pictures/photographs of the activities/lessons for the day. Examples of visual timetables are presented below.