Signs & Symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

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Understanding Oppositional Defiant Disorder

Learn about ODD

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a disorder of childhood that is characterized by persistent patterns of disobedient, hostile, disruptive, and defiant behaviors that children direct at adults or other authority figures. While all children will display disruptive behaviors at times, and will disobey authority figures throughout their development, children with ODD engage in these behaviors much more often and with much more severity than does the average child who is simply testing his or her limits. For children with ODD, they will do things with the sole intent of causing conflict or annoying the people around them. They do not think about, nor do they care about, the consequences that can result from their actions.


ODD statistics

Oppositional defiant disorder is said to be one of the most common behavioral disorders diagnosed in children and treatment is available. Professionals in the field debate on its prevalence, but it is generally believed that approximately 10% of children will develop ODD. Prior to the onset of puberty, oppositional defiant disorder is more prevalent in boys than it is in girls, but once puberty has been reached and surpassed, the numbers become more equivalent.

Encouragingly, studies have shown that nearly two thirds of children who are diagnosed with ODD during their childhood will overcome the majority of their negative behavioral disturbances as they continue to grow older. These studies state that, by the age of 18, nearly 70% of children who had previously been diagnosed with ODD no longer displayed symptoms of it.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for ODD

As is true with all behavioral conditions, one specific cause has not been identified as being the sole reason why children develop ODD. Instead, it is believed to be a combination of multiple factors working together that cause the onset of the symptoms. The following are examples of various factors that are believed may play a role in the development of oppositional defiant disorder:

Genetic: It is not uncommon for children who receive a diagnosis of ODD to have biological family members who also suffer from some form of mental illness, including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders. This fact leads professionals to believe that there is most likely a genetic component that causes certain children to be more susceptible to developing the symptoms of ODD.

Physical: Studies have shown that children who have traits indicative of oppositional defiant disorder have an abnormal amount of the brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters.  These neurotransmitters are responsible for allowing communication to occur amongst different areas of the brain, so when there is a lack of those chemicals, proper communication may not occur, resulting in the symptoms of ODD.

Environmental: The environment in which children are raised is believed to have a significant impact on whether or not they will develop ODD. For example, if children are surrounded by a chaotic home life where violence, excessive arguments, and things of the sort are prevalent, it would not be unreasonable for those children to act out as a result.

Risk Factors:

  • Family discord
  • Inconsistent parenting / lack of parental involvement
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Repeated exposure to violence
  • Dysfunctional home life
  • Exposure to substance abuse
  • Being abused and/or neglected

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ODD

The signs and symptoms of oppositional defiant disorder will vary from child to child depending on the age of the child, the environment in which the child lives, and the sex of the child. Some examples of signs and symptoms that may be present in children who have ODD can include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Argues excessively with adults
  • Actively defies and refuses to comply with adult requests or rules
  • Being spiteful / seeking revenge
  • Blaming others for their own mistakes or behaviors
  • Deliberately attempting to upset people
  • Difficulty making friends

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Frequently feeling frustrated
  • Difficulty “thinking before speaking”

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Strong feels of resentment
  • Low self-esteem
  • Persistent negativity
  • Chronic feelings of annoyance


Effects of ODD

Children who do not receive proper treatment for their ODD may suffer from long-lasting effects that could potentially follow them into adulthood. Some examples of these effects may include:

  • Social isolation
  • Lacking the ability to develop lasting, meaningful relationships
  • Difficulty in educational and occupational settings

In many cases, when left untreated, children with oppositional defiant disorder grow up to have conduct disorder in their teenage or young adult years. If continued to be untreated, some adolescents with conduct disorder will go on to develop antisocial personality disorder.

Co-Occurring Disorders

ODD and co-occurring disorders

Oppositional defiant disorder can occur alongside a variety of other mental illnesses, some with symptoms overlapping one another. Examples of the most commonly known disorder to co-exist with ODD include:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Intermittent explosive disorder
  • Language disorder
  • Intellectual development disorder
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