Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder Learned or a Lifelong Mental Illness?

Updated on August 09, 2011
B.M. asks from Dallas, TX
21 answers

Before even meeting my child, a counselor wrote she possibly has ODD. This is based on the fact she only disobeys at home and gets furious when we insist she clean her room or she misses out on everything.

Should a counselor be guessing after a 4 minute phone call and then talking to us for another 25 minutes without ever meeting the child? She is licensed and was a school counselor for 10 years she says. She has been in private practice only a year.

Also, is ODD an illness like bipolar that never goes away or is it learned behavior? My child is shy, sensitive, GT, and strongwlilled at home. At school and church she is never in trouble, picks up, and helps cheerfully.

Thanks for you help.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

Featured Answers



answers from Philadelphia on

To me this is common sense... If she only misbehaves at home then she can control herself and it is not ODD. I would not even bother to speak to this counselor again. If she behaves for her teachers I think you have to change the methods you are using to discipline her. I personally think it is outrageous she would suggest this based on a 4 minute phone call although I am making a judgement that it is not based off of 3 written paragraphs:0)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

Agree with all 3 prior post definitely get a second opinion and it should be like Sue W. said type of process. It is not learned its just the way the child is wired. Behavior therapy and behavior systems are a must and beneficial to all parties (mom, dad, school, grandparents, and sitters). And the behavior is in multiple settings.

1 mom found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Minneapolis on

A diagnosis can only properly done with an extended, in person, evaluation. There are good, and not so good, counselors - as there are in any profession. If you have a concern, get an appointment with a clinical psychologist who specializes in children and get a full evaluation. I have several friends who have had their children evaluated and it is a long, six to eight-hour process including several different types of tests and interviews.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

If your child is gifted or 2e (gifted + ________, like adhd, an aspie, etc.)... you've PROBABLY got your answer right there. Most gifted kids don't just "accept" an answer, and they challenge almost EVERYTHING (sigh. So many people think that giftedness is something to covet or aspire to, but they don't realize that it's a brain disorder with as many problems associated with it as benefits.)

Some challenge verbally but will do what they're told while running an out and out diatribe/commentary on why they disagree UTTERLY with what they are doing. Others will become little contrary blocks of stone and either argue vehemently or just stand there shooting sparks out of their eyes. Others will MAYBE do what they're told but you can almost here the running commentary in their head. Others just shut down, won't do it, won't talk. Others just MELT DOWN. And, quite frankly, the same kid can react in EACH of those ways depending on either their mood or the situation.

Take "You need to clean your room."

An ODD kid will say no. Not do it. There is absolutely no reasoning with them. They will disagree that the sun is going to rise the next morning if you tell them it will. They are disagreeing to disagree.

A gifted kid will often take issue with your wording, your premise, your tone, how they feel their own ability is suited to the task, the time in which EITHER you or they feel it will take to be done, how said cleaning will affect their idea for how they want to spend that period of time.... and often, all of the above and more. A 2e kid will have all of the above plus other issues going on (aka being overwhelmed, anxiety attacks, emotional meltdown, cognitive dissonance... the list goes on).

The METHODS that you deal with the same RESPONSE "No." are ENTIRELY DIFFERENT.

A gifted kid can be reasoned with TO A POINT. Even if that reasoning is along the lines of "agreeing to disagree as long as x, y, and z are met" ("Because I said so", in it's most complex form, becuase "Because I said so" in it's simple form gets blown off as a ridiculous statement with little to no merit... but agreeing to do certain 'nonsensical' things in order to please someone they love can have merit. I know. Kind of a pain in the tucus. But most gifted kids will take only a certain number or percentage of "Because I said so the long version" before you reach some fairly arbitrary "limit", so it's typically better to see if they'll accept some good reasoning whenever possible. For example; they may ALWAYS accept danger as a viable 'because I said so' no argument or debate is allowed to be brooked until reaching a 'safe' place... but they'll only give you so many "freebies" for personal preference.). A 2e kid, otoh, often needs certain stumbling blocks removed that are triggering anxiety, sensory overload, etc IN ADDITION to being reasoned with.

Gifted/2e kids can "easily" (comparatively) be taught to disagree/argue/debate/question with RESPECT... but you cannot teach them NOT to challenge the premise of almost any concept. It's how their mind's work. It takes several years and lots of repetition and practice and patience to get them to change their APPROACH if not the substance of their challenging of other people.

I am personally VERY unfond of the recent trend of "adding" disorders (like SPD, ODD, etc.) to disorders like ADHD, Giftedness, High Functioning Autism. Gifted kids challenge. ADHD kids have sensory issues and are usually gifted. HFA kids have sensory issues and are usually gifted. It's part and parcel to how our brains receive, sort, and store information, and the different ways that we think. (I'm adhd-c... hence the "we"). By SEPARATING out facets of the disorder, instead of treating holistically, I believe that a lot is "missed", and a lot is ignored, and quite frankly... there's a LOT of extra work that happens that doesn't need to be, and much of it at cross purposes. So right there is my bias. But it's also case in point, since if your daughter is GT, she's going to be challenging. Period. Treating those challenges as if they come from a vacuum is short sighted and silly. Ditto, a child who has been abused will often exhibt the exact same stubborness. But THEIRS comes from broken trust, and while the gifted child may SEEM untrusting, in all reality they have complete and total trust in their parents. It's wasted effort to try and build trust with a GT kid and their parents, and worse, can actually make them start to trust their parents less. It's criminal, however not to work on trustbuilding with abused kids and their trustworthy guardians.

I'm quite leery of any counselor which ADDS disorders onto existing disorders, because that USUALLY means that they don't have a good understanding of the primary disorder.

PERSONALLY... I'd look for a psychologist who SPECIALIZES in gifted kids and their accompanying issues. You will get MASSIVELY different advice, tips/tricks, and treatment plan than if you go with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in neurotypical children, abused children, autistic children, etc.

In the meantime... the BEST gifted resource on the web is Hoagies.

The Davidson Institute, CTY, & Stanford are also good resources, but Hoagies is hands down the best.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Well first, if sounds like she may have become skewed within a school setting. ODD is overdiagnosed a lot. Almost every kid I work has been diagnosed with ODD and yes they technically fit the "diagnosis" for it, but if you take into account their upbringing, social exposure, etc., they are not ODD. I don't know a lot about your child, but it if she is not exhibiting any behaviors in other settings I doubt she's ODD. ODD children are defiant everywhere, it does not matter.

ODD is a liftetime trait, but the diagnosis is not a lifetime. Basically ODD becomes a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder at 15 and Antisocial Personality Disorder as an adult. True cases of ODD/CD/ASP are individuals who are extremely manipulative and lack a great deal of empathy. It is literally difficult for them to process how their negative actions impact other individuals. This is what actually has to be "treated" with therapy. Getting them to realize empathy, the negative impacts their actions have, and teaching them to think through their actions is ten times more difficult for them then for most kids. They just literally can't process it. If your daughter is just simply defiant but is able to understand why what she did is wrong, then it may be more she needs a different discipline technique at home or something needs to change in the environment. It does not equal ODD. But, like I said before ODD is overdiagnosed. I think we like to have an explanation of sorts for why kids do what they do instead of just saying "maybe we need to do something different" or even better "maybe their just being a kid." But, I digress.

I will say that if you have a counselor that is THAT quick to jump to a diagnosis, I would recommend a different counselor. When I meet with kids I NEVER diagnosis them until at least 2-3 sessions in with the kid themselves. Almost all of my teens come in with a "diagnosis," but many of them don't even need the diagnosis, or I find that it is inaccurate and end up re-diagnosing them. School settings are also quick to diagnose, so that may be why she has this tendency. Partially because once a school gets a diagnosis, the kid falls into a different funding/testing bracket.

If you want more info on ODD or have more questions, I would be more then willing to talk via PMs with you. I work with low-income kids and they almost ALL get diagnosed with this, so I have educated myself a LOT of ODD/CD/ASP for this purpose.

ADDED: Sue is right. It is an 8 hour process that requires a long in-depth interview with them, multiple tests and assessments, interviews with parents, and sometimes interviews with other individuals in the childs life.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

An ODD child is unwilling to accept any form of authority. School is very, hard, bosses are very hard, coaches, preachers, husbands, children, some societal normalcies.
Therapy helps tremendously.
If your child is does not act up in church, school, on the payground then I doubt it's ODD.
ODD children do not like any direction from anyone.
I have written on here many times the importance of consistency. It is very important with ADHD/ODD/CD children.
Personally I would find a different therapist.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

I would take it with a grain of salt considering your daughter has not been formally evaluated. Usually professionals do not put out any kind of diagnosis, even assumed, until they formally evaluate. No sense sending you off onto an emotional bunny trail unnecessarily.

Also - lots of kids disobey only at home and throw horrible tantrums. That isnt ODD. Usually ODD is where they have long lasting problems with all kinds of authority, not just those at home

Before you go down that route and spend a lot of energy on it, get your daughter formally evaluated. It sounds like you have enough on your plate already!!

Best of all things!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

NO, no, no. I agree with all of those who state that she can not diagnose without eval. Drives me up the wall that that she even guessed and then relayed her assertions to you. Well, doesn't that just put you into a tail spin?

Not only that, but if she is evaluated and she has ODD, the diagnosis and management thereof should be carefully explained to you.

Like others have said, it is diagnosed a lot in schools. Its like if you work for a clinic that only treats "x", you tend to think everyone you see has "x." A good therapist does not do that.

For your own empowerment and peace of mind, get her evaluated. I will say ODD is not situational. If you have not heard reports from her school or those at church then...

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Dear B.,

That behavior is pretty normal, it is our job as parents to figure out how to handle these outbursts. You don't mention how old is your daughter. Anyway, our oldest daughter was like that, now she is starting law school and has matured very nicely. Sometimes there may be an underlying reason why they are frustrated or sad and they are just releasing it all in the safe environment of their home, where they know they have unconditional love. There is no need to label your child, labels hinder and become excuses--they never empower. You need to spend more time bonding with her doing fun stuff together so she can feel comfortable opening up to you. She may not even know what is bothering her, it could just be hormonal! Even if it's hormonal, there is hope. Remain loving, consistent, and do not lose your cool and yell, scream, or call her names. Eventually as she matures she will see all the good things you are doing for her. If something it actually bothering her, as you bond you will be able to help her through it. She may just need to feel more positive things at home... relaxing and feeling loved. Spending the one on one time with her may just fix the whole thing! :-)

There are way too many unqualified counselors out there just wanting future clients, or enjoyment of their position of power. There are no quick fixes, just like losing weight or getting in shape, you have to do the work and it takes time, patience, and determination. No one is going to know your daughter better than you, best wishes and God bless!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is where psychiatrist, psychologist and professional counsels get those wonderful labels. I am not a big fan of labels, but sometimes they do help. Check the DSM to see the Diagnostic criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Now, I usually would not tell anyone to go pick up this book and try to understand it and I don’t have one in front of me, but it looks pretty simple for ODD. I found this online and I am not sure which DSM it came from. Make sure you look at a current one.

Diagnostic criteria for 313.81 Oppositional Defiant Disorder
(cautionary statement)
A. A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:
(1) often loses temper
(2) often argues with adults
(3) often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
(4) often deliberately annoys people
(5) often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
(6) is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
(7) is often angry and resentful
(8) is often spiteful or vindictive
Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.
B. The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.
C. The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder.
D. Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

First of all I want to say what a wonderful Mother you are to be putting such thought and care into what is going on with your daughter. I know most of us on here are thinking - "well of course!", but there are far too many that do not. There are so many different things that could be going on, and I think you are right in covering your bases for your daughter's sake. I don't know how old your daughter is, but if it makes you feel any better, my daughter is 6 and is going through just about the exact same stage. She did go through a heart transplant when she was 2, and has a wacky Bipolar Disorder Mom (me) to deal with, but I hope and pray every day what she is going through is a phase and not something we need to see the therapist for - we decided to work with her and give it some time. However, if you are worried and want to know for sure what might be going on you your dear daughter's head, for one - do not go back to the "phone" doc - I think we have reached a concensus on that! Next, I would set up appointments with a few different doctors or therapists of different types - they could be psychologists, therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, counselors, something more holistic - your choice, but I'd see maybe 3 different people, and make sure each met and talked with your daughter as well as you. I say three so you get a wide variety of advice, or perhaps advice that all matches up, and you know for sure what you are dealing with. I would defanately make sure the doctors/therapists specialize in dealing with children, and hopefully in the disorders you are concerned with. You can get referrals from your pediatritian, or if they don't have some specifics you could try googling your area, type of doc, type of disorder and see what comes up - call them and ask what they offer, and if they don't have what you want see if they have recommendations. Again, I don't know how old your daughter is, but a tale of caution - when my daughter was 5 I was convinced she was ADHD and had her checked out. The way they basically tested this was by what I told them - real scientific. So we left with a prescription for a stimulant, and it made her angry and mean, so much so we just took her off it and didn't take her back. Her teacher had told us they didn't think she had it, it was in my head. When I looked closer, she was just being 5. We did find a good company in the process though that helped her focus and calm down - it was called Southwestern Music Therapy. It was a music therapist that would come to your home and design a music program specific to your child and what their needs were - they use it to help all kinds of diseases and disorders both mental and physical. The website is The lady who runs it is named Marci - she and he teachers are all trained - I think by graduate degree in music therapy. My daughter loved it! If you find that she is just doing normal defiant strong-willed child things (which I hope!) a great book series to read is "Parenting the Strong-Willed Child" - here is the link on Amazon - , another good one is "Parenting with Love and Logic" - link on Amazon -

If by chance your daughter does end up having ODD, the best thing you can do for her is to always be there to support her and to read everything you can get your hands on about ODD - really this will make a big difference.

I honestly don't know much about ODD and whether it is learned or something that never goes away, but either way - I hate to say it, even if it is a learned behavior it could be hard for her to unlearn it, and if so she will need you so much.

I speak from experience, as I have Bipolar Disorder, and though there are a million medicines for us now, most of them either don't work or don't for for long, so I have had to learn to deal with it, and my family had had to learn to deal with it. I won't lie to you - it isn't easy a lot of the time. Then sometimes it is. It is important to treasure the moments in life that are good, and the rest, remember how much you love her and remember the good.

Good luck to you. I pray for you she is just going through a phase and nothing more. If not, I pray for your strength, the strength only a mother can have. :)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

IF a person, acts this way, ANYWHERE, and not only at home, then that is a true blue disorder.
BUT, if it ONLY occurs at home and not other places, then it is not a true blue disorder... because, it can be turned off and on and is situational.
Thus, I do not think, your daughter is ODD.

She is a how old???
It is probably age-related issues.
And she may need to learn "coping-skills."

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

It is life but with proper therapy they can learn to control it. Andy went from losing it, god just all the time, to maybe once a month.

Just an FYI I have no idea which poking and prodding lead to adding more letters to Andy's diagnosis. He is PDD, he does lack the ability to understand abstracts. He doesn't see his behavior as wrong, just a means to an end. If he doesn't like what is asked of him he will react. There are other times he is the sweetest kid on earth, again cause it gets what he wants. The person who said they are manipulative is correct.

As I said he is much better. He now tries to get things in a normal manner, he nags mom. :p

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

ODD is a REALLY strong diagnosis to label a child with. Yes, she should talk to your child, but parent reports are an important factor. I think there is a lot of confusion with this label, since there is often the implication of poor parenting. So, get second and third opinions, because labels will carry a lot of weight moving forward, not to mention getting improper therapy. Good luck.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

It seems to be a behavioral problem, but CAN, not necessarily, co-exist with a mental illness.

I have had two daughters in therapy and wouldn't be offended by a counselor writing they "possibly" had ODD, since she couldn't fully diagnose it until she had thoroughly evaluated your daughter. Also, to properly assess your her it will be important to look for other disorders which may be present; such as, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder) and anxiety disorders as it can be difficult to improve the symptoms of ODD without treating the coexisting disorder IF that is what she has.

The symptoms are usually seen in multiple settings, but may be more noticeable at home or at school. The causes of ODD are unknown, but many parents report that their child with ODD was more rigid and demanding that the child’s siblings from an early age. Biological, psychological and social factors (you mentioned shyness and sensitivity) may have a role.

Here is what seems to be an excellent article (and links) on ODD, why not read it and arm yourself with questions for the counselor in the event this is the ultimate diagnosis for your daughter?

God bless❤



answers from Dallas on

There is an amazing doctor you need to talk to - Dr. Sandy Gluckman. She has a business called Parents Take Charge. Go to her website & learn more about her. She can help.



answers from Pittsfield on

From my understanding of ODD (and I admit I don't know a lot about it), the child is usually defiant in more than just one setting.
I agree with Sue W's suggestion.
Best wishes =o)


answers from Los Angeles on

I don't know anyone that doesnt have a bit of O.D.D. when it comes to doing something we dont really want to do.
Giving your child boundaries so they can predict a consequence or reward for certain behaviors is what you do. Since your child does know how to act in certain social situations, my guess is that she is controlling you when she has the opportunity to.
And, no, no one can do a diagnosis over the phone, that's just ridiculous. People are too quick to label kids these days and put them on chemicals that really ruin them and squelch their spirit.


answers from Houston on

My lifelong friend has ODD, along with another disorder. He has struggled with it all his life, but now that he is older and with years of therapy, he is more in control. He purposely joined the military knowing it would help him.

A counselor can certainly make a suggestion, but not an actual diagnosis, and it sounds like all she offered was an informal opinion. She really needs a formal evaluation and behavioral therapy as well as family training techniques to curb it if that is what it is.

Some excellent information on odd here:



answers from Atlanta on

Hi B.,

First of all, NO ONE can diagnose anyone from a distance. That said, many, many, many of these new disorders are created. The abundance of the synthetic chemicals in our world have created a cocktail of contraindications that include many of these new disorders. Yes, some diagnoses are correct but many are simply a reaction to the bath and body products, the processing of our foods, the fluoride ingested into our system and the cleaning products that we use in our homes.... My youngest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD when she was seven. When I detoxed my home, her diagnosis was removed. It was that sudden!

I'm not saying that your child is not ODD but I would definitely try removing anything that might be provoking it. Detoxing my home was easy the way I did it and very affordable. If you're interested in giving it a try, PM me. I'd love to help.

God bless,



answers from Dallas on

Get a new counselor. Dont use that one. If you heard me describe my child, you would think he had all sorts of serious mental illnesses - when, in reality, he is a strong willed three year old boy.

A counselor should not even speculate over the phone about a child she has never sat down and talked with - there is no way to know. Its irresponsible to panic a parent and label a child without enough information.

Dont worry about ODD until you go to a new counselor and they evaluate your child.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions