Oppositional defiant disorder challenges parents

HOUSTON - If you have a child, you know the drill: Temper tantrums, outbursts, back talking. They are all a part of growing up, but consistent anger issues can signal a possible defiant disorder, according to doctors and educators.

"It would just go into a power struggle," said Jennifer Long, a proud mother of four -- including triplets.

"There was something different about his behavior and he was pretty daring with adults," said Long about one of her sons who she said deals with a disruptive behavioral condition called oppositional defiant disorder, or ODD.

"It is the kind of the example -- of 'no, you can't make me' mentality," said Dr. David Curtis, a psychologist at Texas Children's Hospital.

Curtis said children with ODD take temper tantrums and acting out to the extremes.

Oppositional defiant disorder is often seen in children who also have attention deficit disorder and can be identified as early as age 3. It often manifests in preschool-aged children and that can cause problems in school.

"I just see a lot of parents who are depressed and feeling hopeless because you can't control what your child does at school and every place he goes," said Long, who described how her son was expelled from his public elementary school. "They weren't even interested in what kind of techniques were used with defiance disorders.".

Long said she will fight to get him re-admitted and is speaking out so more people will understand ODD and the symptoms.

"There are different symptoms. Predominant symptoms are over-reactive behavior, having a negative reaction to authority, often deliberately annoying others but often getting overly upset and having large tantrums and meltdowns," described Curtis.

Many children with ODD and other behavioral issues end up at private schools such as Houston's Harris School, where therapists meet with families on a weekly basis, classes are kept small and students are given choices.

"If you approach them with a traditional approach such as 'you will do this now,' they are going to become more entrenched with their shutdown position," said Bob Ziegler, a licensed clinical social worker.

Teachers at the Harris School turn to patience when dealing with defiant students, even when faced with violent behavior.

"I have had things thrown at me. Chairs and desks tipped over, books thrown at me. It is tough, but you just got to stay patient with them," teacher Brett Glasscock said.

Administrators said the patience pays off for the children and most are able to return to main stream schools.

At Texas Children's Hospital, doctors find even 10-week intervention sessions with children with ODD and their parents can help turn things around.

"In terms of 10 weeks, that is not a long time considering you might have spent five or six years struggling with these kind of difficulties," said Curtis.

Oppositional defiant order is more common in boys than girls. If it's not treated in childhood, ODD can put the child at a much greater risk for anxiety and mood-related problems in adolescence and adulthood.

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