A Teacher's Guide To Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

A Teacher's Guide To Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

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According to the latest statistics, it†s likely there†s at least one child in every class who†s affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder. But what does it actually mean if a child has a diagnosis of ODD?

In this episode of School Behaviour Secrets, we take a deep dive into understanding ODD in the classroom. We look at how Oppositional Defiant Disorder affects pupils, what kinds of behaviours we might see in the classroom, and share strategies for supporting pupils with the condition.

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Show notes / transcription

Simon Currigan  0:00  

We've got kids who present as irritable, who present as argumentative and defiant. And we've also got kids that can be quite vindictive. These are kids who might be deliberately spiteful to other children who actively enjoy others failures will deliberately plan to upset or harm other children that they don't get on with. Now, this is different from a child having poor social understanding and upsetting someone because they don't understand the impact of their actions or they have poor empathy. This is someone who is deliberately going out of their way to engage in a plan that they've thought about to upset or diminish the other kids in class. 

Hi there. My name is Simon Currigan and welcome to another episode of school behaviour secrets. I'm not saying we're at the low brow end of educational podcasting, but I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that most of our scripts are written in crayon. I'm here with my co host, Emma Shackleton. Hi, Emma.

Emma Shackleton  1:31  

Hi, Simon. Haven't we won awards for this podcast?

Simon Currigan  1:35  

Yeah, the certificates were from my mom. I've got a question. I've been dying to ask you all week. Have you ever been in a position where you really wanted to do something? But you've been told no. You're not allowed to do it?

Emma Shackleton  1:48  

Yes. Easy, easy question this week. I think all of us can think of a time during the Coronavirus pandemic, especially during lockdown when we couldn't do things that we wanted to because of the enforced limitations. So for example, I didn't get to see my mom for about 10 months. And that's the longest time in my life that we haven't seen each other for and it was really, really tough to be told that, you know, there were travel restrictions, we weren't allowed to go and see the people that we loved. What's this got to do with today's podcast? Why do you want to know?

Simon Currigan  2:21  

Well, because in this week's show, we're going to be looking at Oppositional Defiant Disorder. ODD is a condition where children can present really challenging behaviour when they don't get their own way. They really want to be in control of their own behaviour choices. And we're going to look at what odd looks like in the classroom how it presents, we're going to look at what odd actually is, and give you some strategies for managing that behaviour. 

Emma Shackleton  2:44  


But before we do that, I have a quick request to make. If you're listening to this right now, please can you open your podcast app and use the Share button to share this episode with three friends or colleagues who you think might find this episode useful. That means they and the children in their care can get the help and support they need to make progress in their classrooms, too.

Simon Currigan  3:07  

Okay, I'm excited to get started. So let's pull up our shirts take a long deep breath and prepare to pierce that belly button we call behaviour.

Emma Shackleton  3:16  

Okay, so what does ODD look like? Well, the term oppositional is defined as resistance or dissent and Defiance is more obvious. So that is resistant or combative behaviours, even sometimes vindictiveness two figures of authority. It's open resistance and bold disobedience,

Simon Currigan  3:41  

There are three key behaviours that are associated with ODD and we're going to run through them quickly. Now, the first and probably the most obvious is sort of having an angry or irritable mood. So we're looking at kids that are touchy, that are easily annoyed, that often lose their temper with others or with their work. They generally present in an angry or resentful way, this is really easy to spot in the classroom. These are the kids that you know, fly off the handle very, very quickly, when they feel that they're being questioned. Or, you know, you're saying their work isn't good enough. They fly off the handle, they lose their temper, and also they're really easily annoyed by other children in the class.

Emma Shackleton  4:19  

Okay, so in addition to those sorts of irritable and angry mood behaviours, you'll also see argumentative and certainly defiant behaviours. Children with ODD frequently get into arguments, particularly with figures of authority. For children that might be with adults, especially adults who are making demands on them. So teachers, parents, head teachers, anybody who they feel is trying to control them. Often, children with ODD will actively defy or refuse to comply with requests from those authority figures or even refuse to comply with the rules. And what we're talking about is blatant refusals. So saying no, digging their heels in, saying I'm not doing it, you can't make me maybe even arguing that the rules are stupid, lots of name calling involved as well. And often those children with ODD will intentionally or deliberately annoy others. So they'll goad other children either by name calling or laughing, sometimes physical things like poking or pushing, they'll try and go to others, they're trying to get a reaction. And children with ODD usually blame others for their own mistakes or misbehaviour. So they are unable to admit when they've done something wrong or accept any responsibility for their own actions. They'll blame somebody else, they'll blame the teacher, they'll blame the work, they'll blame other children, they're not able to accept that they might have made a mistake.

Simon Currigan  6:01  

So we've got kids who present as irritable, who presents as argumentative and defiant. And we've also got kids that can be quite vindictive. These are kids who might be deliberately spiteful to other children, you know, who actively enjoy others failures will deliberately plan to upset or harm other children that they don't get on with. Now, this is different from a child having poor social understanding and upsetting someone because they don't understand the impact of their actions, or they have poor empathy. This is someone who is deliberately going out of their way to engage in a plan that they've thought about to upset or diminish the other kids in class. So let's have a think about how ODD develops. Well, first of all, children with odd as we've discussed already, are often angry or irritable, and that can manifest itself in class as tantrums. Now, most kids have tantrums and lots of them up to about the age of four. You know, sometimes it's called the terrible twos. But we all know that that that period goes on longer than that, at that age, you know, kids are started walking around, they're starting to gain more independence in the world, they're able to make choices away from their own parents and kids love that, you know, who wouldn't love more and more independence and being able to explore the world and to have tantrums because you've been told no, by a parent, up to about the age of three or four is developmentally normal, it's expected, and it's still normal, or expected to have occasional outbursts around boundaries, even up into your teenage years.

Emma Shackleton  7:29  

However, having lots of tantrums over the age of four usually indicates that something else is at play here. Sometimes there might be an issue around parenting or boundary setting. But it might also be a sign that the child has ODD and it's only at the age of four and over that medical professionals may start to assess for ODD

Simon Currigan  7:53  

Something to bear in mind here is while many children will start to develop ODD in the early years, it's not always present then, sometimes you can have fairly easygoing kids, and they suddenly develop ODD in adolescence. So what was an easygoing, happy child can sometimes develop ODD very quickly in their early teenage years, it's like to have a sudden rapid change of personality. So it doesn't have to be present in the early years for you to see in teenagers.

Emma Shackleton  8:21  

Okay, so what happens to these children who've got ODD then? Well, it seems like some kids tend to grow out of it, but others actually carry it with them into adulthood. And this can really impact on their life chances and have quite a lot of negative outcomes for them. So you can imagine somebody who's having those sort of tantrum behaviours and really openly defiance against authority figures is going to find it really difficult to do things like hold down a job, for example, they're probably going to have lots of problems in their relationships, whether that be with family members or with their peers. And ODD has actually also been linked to negative life experiences such as alcohol and substance misuse. 

Simon Currigan  9:06  

When we think about ODD prevalence, which is how many kids have it, it's actually really hard to judge. There's been lots of studies done around the world and the numbers, they come back out with when they sample their populations are very, very varied. At the low end, they come back at 2% at the high end 16%. That is a very wide margin. If you average out those studies, which is something I did a couple of months ago, you're probably looking at something like 4% of children of school age would qualify for a diagnosis of OD D. So we're talking about one child in the average class of 30. So it is quite widespread.

Emma Shackleton  9:41  

And the other complication with getting a diagnosis of OD D is it's often diagnosed alongside other conditions. Interestingly, it's often diagnosed alongside ADHD so Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. About four in ten children with ADHD  actually turn out to have ODD as well, but it's also linked to mood disorders, anxiety and learning and communication disorders. Children with ODD often go on to get a diagnosis later in life like conduct disorder, for example. So it can be complex to unpick as the presentation is often complicated and children with ODD will, of course, often refuse to engage with the assessment process to. If what they perceive to be an authority figure tries to come in to do observations or ask them questions. Children with ODD will often refuse to answer those questions and refuse to engage with that assessment. So it all makes it quite tricky to diagnose

Simon Currigan  10:43  

A condition that ODD is similar to in many ways in the way it presents is PDA. Now, we did an interview with Ruth Fidler, a few months back where we did a deep dive into PDA. PDA stands for pathological demand avoidance. So here the word pathological means to an unhealthy degree. And then demand avoidance is avoiding demands. The difficulty is, when you look at the behaviours of children in class, ODD and PDA can look fairly similar, but they have very different underlying causes. 

Emma Shackleton  11:14  

So PDA is actually a specific form of autism. So while it's not a diagnosis by itself, the child will usually first get an autism diagnosis. But sometimes within that diagnosis, it will be described as autism with a PDA profile. Kids with PDA often seem on the surface to be quite social, at least superficially, so their autism gets overlooked.

Simon Currigan  11:41  

I just like to take a pause for a moment and say that if you're finding this podcast useful, then you're going to love what we've got waiting for you in our Inner Circle programme. The Inner Circle is your one stop shop for all things behaviour. It's a comprehensive platform filled with videos, resources, and behaviour inspiration to get you unstuck with classroom behaviour. We've got training resources on de escalation, supporting kids with anxiety, support strategies for conditions like autism, ADHD, and PDA. Practical ways of helping pupils deal with strong emotions, assertive behaviour management, techniques for managing the whole classroom, setting out your classroom environment for success. Resetting behaviour with tricky classes, and more. Our online videos walk you through practical solutions step by step, just like Netflix, you can turn an Inner Circle subscription on or off whenever you need to. With no minimum contract Plus, you can now get your first seven days of Inner Circle for just one pound. Get the behaviour answers in you've been looking forward today with Inner Circle, visit www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk  And click on the Inner Circle picture near the top of the homepage for more information. 

The key thing with kids with PDA is their behaviour, their demand avoidance, their refusal, their negotiation is linked to anxiety. So inside their head an adult asks them to do something, maybe as simple as put your coat on a coat peg or, you know do the first two sentences of your work. And in their head theyre amplifying those demands. And as a result, they experience huge amounts of anxiety. So to deal with that anxiety, they engage in lots of social tactics to avoid demands like negotiating, or becoming very passive or arguing or pretending to be the person in charge to escape the pressure of that anxiety. And when as adults, we put pressure on kids with PDA, what we're doing is actually increasing the anxiety. The anxiety builds and builds and builds as the adult puts more pressure until you will eventually, in many cases, the child physically resisting or melting down in the classroom. So the key thing with PDA is their resistance to demands is all around anxiety,

Emma Shackleton  13:57  

Whereas ODD can result in similar behaviours, but it's actually got a very different cause. So therefore it will need different strategies to manage it. So ODD is more about that high need to be in control. Whereas PDA is about the anxiety that comes around other people making demands upon them.

Simon Currigan  14:18  

Because we've got similar behaviours but different driving needs, it means our response to those needs needs to be different. So let's think about why do kids develop ODD what causes it? And the truth is at the moment, researchers don't know they're not sure there's all sorts of research going on to this but ODD hasn't been linked to any one specific cause. The one factor might be might be developmental, it might be linked to changes in the prefrontal cortex and we've talked about the prefrontal cortex, lots and lots and lots in this podcast. If you've listened before, you'll know it's the part of the brain that deals with executive functions. It deals with regulating mood, accepting constraints being flexible, regulating your emotions and social interaction. So if that child has a prefrontal cortex that's wired slightly differently, it's going to affect their ability to integrate in class, it's going to affect their ability to be flexible. They're going to want to be more in control of their own actions and demands. And it might affect the way they perceive other people and engage socially.

Emma Shackleton  15:17  

And of course, researchers are wondering if ODD could be genetic. So that means that it would be inherited from one or both parents like some other disorders, like autism, like ADHD, for example.

Simon Currigan  15:30  

Another question I often get asked about ODD is, is it learned? Okay, is this something to do with parenting? And the truth is, kids with ODD will present very, very challenging behaviour in the home, which will often result in that negative behaviour being reinforced from parents, you know, by giving too much attention, which feeds that behaviour in future, or parents might not feel they have the skills in place to put in place consistent boundaries, because otherwise, they would constantly be putting in place boundaries with their kids for every little behaviour. And some parents will stop trying to enforce those boundaries, just for the sake of some harmony in the household. So if you've got ODD, you're going to bring more challenging behaviour, which is going to need a different kind of parenting style.

Well, that's right. And it's important to note that bad parenting alone can't cause ODD on its own. It's a bit like chicken and egg. ODD kids are naturally harder to parent because of their temperament, which can lead them to a negative parenting style. And that results in more challenging behaviour, which is even harder to parent, and around and around and around we go. 

So let's have a look at a couple of strategies that will work with kids in the classroom who present ODD. So kids with ODD often respond well to extrinsic rewards. So it's time to break out those reward charts. Now, in this podcast, we've talked in the past how the ideal is, you know, to encourage kids with intrinsic behaviour that we do the right thing, because it's the right thing. But you've got to work with what you've got, you've got to use what's effective with the children that are in front of you. And the fact is, research shows that using extrinsic reward systems is very effective with kids with ODD. So we need to get our reward charts. And on those reward charts, we need to be very specific about the behaviours we are looking for from that child, we want to make the criteria for success objective, so we could put on a target along the lines have to behave better in class. But actually, what does that mean, it could mean a variety of things, it could be about how you engage during the whole class introductions and whole class conversations, it could be about trying hard with your work, it could be about not being physically aggressive to the other children, it's just too broad. So with our reward chart, we need to be super specific about the things we're looking for. So that might be along the lines of putting up your hand three times on the carpet, that is something the child has done or not done, where there is a grey area. And bear in mind the child here with ODD, one of their characteristics is they're going to be argumentative. If your targets are in that grey area or woolly. You know, when you're using a reward chart, then they might start arguing about whether they've achieved the target or not. So we want something they've done, or they haven't done that's very, very objective. And then we need to be consistent on our expectations and delivering the rewards. If we say we're going to promise something, if they get 34567 stickers on their chart, then we have to deliver it. Otherwise, the child won't believe in the system won't believe they're going to get the rewards and it loses its effectiveness. Another thing you can do with reward charts is to vary the rewards because the system gets boring otherwise. And if your criteria are simple and objective, there's no middle ground to argue about whether the reward was earned. Use phrases if they tried to argue like I'm not going to argue about what I've seen with my own eyes. And the decision has been made when you're discussing whether the child has met the criteria or not that will close down the argument.

Emma Shackleton  18:54  

I think closing down the argument is key actually because sometimes adults get very drawn into arguments with children and children with ODD are like world class arguers. They're very well practised. What we've got to realise is that an argument is like a game of table tennis, it takes two, so one person, the adult, needs to put the bat down and walk away. So having those closure phrases like I'm not going to argue or the decision has been made, and then actually physically turning away walking away indicating what I sometimes see is adult saying I'm not going to argue about it and then carry arguing about it. So you've got to you know, say it with conviction. And don't worry if you don't have the last word so don't worry if the child comes back with something because they will, but be the grown up and don't you feel like you have to have the last word so let them have their say. You say what you need to say and then that's it stop engaging with that behaviour. Otherwise, it's easy to get tied up in knots and you start negotiating and compromising and going round in many circles, and it just gets really complicated. So choose to put the bat down and walk away. 

Another useful strategy is to give lots of choices about the work where you can. So you can give choices about where it's done, for example, so you can say to the child, it's up to you, you can work here at the table, or you can work in the book corner, or you can lay on the beanbag to do your work. You can give choices about how the work is done. So maybe let them use to write in pen or write in pencil or write on a whiteboard and photocopy it or use post it notes or have a special notebook give choices. So it doesn't feel like you are trying to control everything. And a great way to do that is use the language of choice. So say things like when you're ready, or it's up to you, or you decide. And that really takes away that pressure of the adult trying to control the child, and it helps the child with ODD to feel like they've got some control. And they are doing some of the decision making

Simon Currigan  21:05  

Linked to that, is an approach called limited choice for managing behaviour. Very, very similarly, imagine you've got a child who's refusing to come in from outside, what you do is give them two separate options. So you might say to them, well, you can go in through the reception door, or you can come in through the year six door and giving them that choice makes them feel like they're in control of the outcome. And as Emma said, finish that off by saying, you know, it's your choice, you're in control. So you can go through reception, we can go through year six, it's entirely your choice. I don't mind.

Emma Shackleton  21:33  

I think with limited choices, too, it's important to make sure that you're limiting to probably two choices and make sure that you're happy with either outcome. Because where I've seen this technique fail is where the adult has given two choices, one that they would really like the child to pick, and one that they don't want the child to pick. So in your example, Simon about coming in, if the adult says, Well, you can either come in or you can stay out, when really you want them to come in. You know what's going to happen, the child is going to choose the well, I'll stay outside choice then. And if you've given that as an option, it feels like oh, you've been foiled. So make sure you think through the options and you're happy with either one. So if you're giving the option, you can come through the reception door or come in through the year six door, don't then tell them off for choosing the year six door if that's what they do.

Simon Currigan  22:23  

And then you've got to sound super neutral and not like trying to force them towards one choice. You've got to sound super neutral. Now is not the time to be assertive, it's more dialling it back to neutral saying I do that one or that one, I don't mind either way,

Emma Shackleton  22:34  

it's feigning a little bit of disinterest. So it takes the heat out of it, isn't it? Okay, and if you're working with kids with challenging behaviour, and you're not sure why they're acting that way, we've got a really useful download that can help. It's called the SEN handbook, and it will help you to link together behaviours that you've observed in your classroom with some possible causes such as autism, ADHD, or attachment. The idea here isn't for teachers to make a diagnosis because we're not qualified to do that. But what we can do if we can try to link together the behaviours that we observe with some of the probable or possible causes. If we can do that quickly, it means that we can get the right help and get early intervention strategies in place. The SEN handbook is a free download. So go to the website www.beaconschoolsupport.co.uk. Click on free resources, and you'll get instant access to that resource. And we'll put a link in the episode description as well.

Simon Currigan  23:36  

And remember to subscribe to the show to make sure you hear each episode as it's released. It's super easy and only takes 10 seconds, open your podcast app now click the subscribe button or follow button as it's called in Apple podcasts and your podcast app will automatically download every single episode for you. So you never miss a thing. And what better way of celebrating your mastery of the technology than by giving the next five people you see in the street, a knowing wink. They won't know your secret, but they'll know something's up.

Emma Shackleton  24:07  

And if you can think of a friend or colleague who might be teaching a child with ODD for example, or who would find the content from today's episode useful, then do them a favour. Use the Share button in your podcast app to let them know about the episode so that their classes and students can benefit as well. That's all we've got for you today. I hope you have a great week and we'll see you in the next episode of school behaviour secrets. Bye.

Simon Currigan  24:34  

Bye now.

(This automated transcript may not be 100% accurate.)