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Authority Defiance Disorder & the Big Role a Child Psychologist is Going to Play in Your Kid’s Life

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Remember that child in school that was labelled the “bad” one? They were always in trouble for something and they just seemed to disrupt everything constantly. We have come a long way since then and today we know that in many cases these children have a disorder called Authority Defiance Disorder (or ODD, Opposition Defiance Disorder). But we are not just able to diagnose the condition today, we can also effectively treat it. During this process, a child psychologist plays an integral part.

In this article, we discuss in depth what Authority Defiance Disorder entails, we detail the symptoms as well as explain which treatments are available.

What is Authority Defiance Disorder?

Authority Defiance Disorder is a behaviour disorder. No one knows exactly what causes the disorder, but it’s believed that it’s a combination of genetics and environmental factors. The disorder is usually diagnosed before the age of 8 and makes the child seem to be constantly uncooperative, disruptive and defiant of any authority. They also struggle with impulse control.

Research shows that at least one in every ten children suffers from ODD. There is no cure for the disorder, but it can be successfully managed and some children have been known to grow out of it with the correct treatment. Severity can range between mild, moderate and severe. The way one can distinguish between these is by measuring the symptoms up against the following definitions:

  • Mild: symptoms only occur in one setting (either at home or just at school, etc.).
  • Moderate: symptoms occur in 2 settings (for example, at home and at school).
  • Severe: symptoms occur in 3+ settings (for example, at home and at school and extramural activity sessions).

Symptoms of Authority Defiance Disorder

It can be hard to diagnose ODD since it often displays as a “naughty child”. It is only once parents have reached their wit’s end and they start looking for professional help and see a child psychologist that the underlying cause of the troubling behaviour is discovered.

Please keep in mind that more than one symptom must be present and for longer than six months. If you are wondering whether your child might have the disorder, the following symptoms are a good indication:

  • Appear to be constantly angry and irritable.
  • Can easily lose their temper.
  • May often appear resentful.
  • Often argue with adults and people in authority.
  • Actively defies or refuses to comply with rules or instructions (especially from adults).
  • Often annoys or upsets people on purpose.
  • Blames other people for their misbehaviour or mistakes.
  • Can be vindictive and spiteful (and has been at least twice in the last 6 months).

Based on the aforementioned severity levels, parents may be alerted by a very concerned school or a child psychologist while the parents themselves don’t experience any of the symptoms at home. That is why it is so important to be informed about this tricky disorder.  

How is Authority Defiance Disorder Diagnosed?

A mental health professional such as a child psychologist will have to do a comprehensive psychological evaluation. This evaluation usually includes the following:

  • General health.
  • The frequency of the defiant and disruptive behaviour.
  • The intensity of the defiant and disruptive behaviour.
  • Emotions are experienced within multiple settings and relationships.
  • The behaviour is displayed within multiple settings and relationships.
  • Different family situations and interactions.
  • The strategies that have been implemented thus far in managing the situation and which were helpful or not so helpful.
  • Whether any other mental health illnesses, communication disorders or learning disorders are present.

Potential Causes

As we touched on earlier, no one is sure exactly what causes ODD, but the following are believed to be contributing factors:

  • Genetics – they could have a genetic disposition. In other words, either disorders such as these run in the family or they’re neurobiological make-up (the way the nerves and brain work) is prone to disorders such as ODD.
  • Environment – the environment they are raised in can be conducive to mental issues and disorders. This can include an environment with harsh disciplinary measures, a lack of supervision, abuse, neglect, or peer pressure.
  • Temperament – Certain personality types are more prone to disorders like these. These personality types are usually highly emotional people who have trouble regulating their emotions, and struggle to tolerate frustration.
  • Parents – ranging from abuse to a lack of supervision, parents who are not efficiently parenting can incite disorders like ODD.
  • Family Issues – whenever there are family dynamics that include constant conflict, mental health issues and substance abuse, it can also increase the possibility of ODD.

Potential Consequences of Authority Defiance Disorder

Sadly, if left undetected or untreated, Authority Defiance Disorder can have serious consequences. These include:

  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Poor school & work performance
  • Substance abuse
  • Lack of impulse control can put them in dangerous situations
  • Suicide

Can Authority Defiance Disorder be Prevented?

There really is no way to safeguard children against ODD, except for avoiding the causes we mentioned earlier. But you can definitely minimize the effects and manage the condition so it doesn’t get worse. This will rely heavily on early diagnosis and effective treatment.

It Usually Comes in Two

Authority Defiance Disorder is usually found in conjunction with other disorders and mental illnesses. These can be:

  • ADHD
  • Depression
  • Learning Disorders
  • Communication Disorders
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder

Treatment for Authority Defiance Disorder

Treatment for ODD consists of training for both the child as well as the parents and psychotherapy with a child psychologist. There is no medication to treat ODD, but if other disorders are present that require medication, such as ADHD, you may see some improvement in the ODD symptoms as well.

A holistic approach to treatment usually includes the following:

Parent Training

Dealing with a child with ODD is not easy and you won’t be able to handle certain situations or incidents in the same way you would a child without the disorder. That’s why it’s essential for parents to receive training in coping skills and unique disorder-related parenting and development skills.

Parent-child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

This is a type of “theory into practice” therapy. During this time, what the parents were taught in parent training is put to the test whilst new issues might emerge that need some parental guidance. This therapy is often performed in an almost “secret agent” style where the child psychologist or other specialised professional sits behind a one-way mirror observing the interaction and then giving the parents feedback via an audio device in their ears.

Individual and Family Therapy

Sessions with a child psychologist will help your child express his/her feelings and help them learn how to manage these emotions in a healthier way. The rest of the family will also need their own psychologist sessions to deal with the emotions and feelings that get brought up whilst dealing with a child with ODD. It can have a profound psychological impact on the individual family members as well as the overall family dynamics.

Cognitive Problem-solving Training

This is essential training when it comes to ODD. This works two-fold. First, it helps your child identify and change certain thought patterns that may lead to the defiant or disruptive behaviour. And secondly, it teaches collaborative problem-solving, which teaches your child to work together and find solutions together.

Social Skills Training

As mentioned earlier, ODD behaviour can cause a lot of problems socially as the symptoms are not really conducive to happy and healthy relationships and interactions. Social training will provide your child with tools to be more flexible and interact more effectively and positively with others.

A Few Helpful Tips When You Have a Child With ODD

By implementing some of the following you will be able to start managing your child’s disorder and improve his/her behaviour:

  • Notice when your child displays positive behaviours and praise and reward the behaviour.
  • Demonstrate the behaviour you would like your child to display.
  • ODD is a disorder where you will need to pick your battles. Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into power struggles just for principle’s sake.
  • Set very clear limits and boundaries. Consistency is key with this disorder so you’ll need to ensure that everyone is clear on what these limits and boundaries are, then always ensure that you give clear instructions, and then strictly enforce any overstepping of the limits and boundaries with the appropriate consequences.
  • Create a consistent daily schedule and routine.
  • Be sure to work in some quality time with your child in this daily routine/schedule.
  • Build a proper support network, not only between all the family members living in the home but also with teachers, coaches and other adults that play a role in your child’s life.
  • Give your child some responsibility. This should come in the form of a simple, yet important task, that your child can get a sense of success after completing.
  • Persevere. These changes are not going to be easily accepted – especially not in the beginning. But staying consistent in increasingly challenging circumstances is going to make all the difference.

Authority Defiance Disorder is Not a Hopeless Situation

Authority Defiance Disorder is a very difficult disorder to diagnose and to work with, but it certainly is not a hopeless situation. And with early detection as well as early and consistent treatment your child’s behaviour can improve dramatically.

If you have any further questions regarding ODD or suspect that your child might have the condition, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at or contact us via our website. Alternatively, you can simply complete the form below and we’ll be in contact shortly:

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