Living With An ODD Child - Oppositional Defiant Disorder
The Toughest Thing Ever
My husband and I adopted our children. We went through years of infertility treatment and the usual trials and tribulations before we finally brought our first child home. We really wanted to be parents. And finally we were.
We had hopes and dreams of a wonderful family life, with two fully participating parents, and a close relationship among all of the family members. At that time, we did not know what Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) was. I wish that I still didn't know. But unfortunately, 18 years later, I know it all too well.
Other articles can describe to you the symptoms, causes, and treatment of Oppositional Defiant Disorder. In short, an ODD child is defiant, manipulative, prone to temper tantrums, has a skewed view of how the world works, never takes responsibility for his or her actions, and seems to live to annoy and provoke those close to him or her while charming outsiders.
I would like to give you a real-life glimpse of what life is like with an ODD child.
Our oldest child was a difficult baby. She didn't sleep well or eat well. She suffered from multiple ear infections which made her life even more miserable. I often wonder if that played a part in her later life.
She was a delightful, active toddler, but she had already starting pushing harder and being much more resistant than her peers.
When her brother was born, for the first time we realized that not all babies were as difficult as our first. By the time she was a pre-schooler, we were reading books about dealing with difficult children.
Life was still quite manageable. We adopted two more children. Then she turned 8 and all life as we knew it changed.
Age 8 is a very typical time for true ODD to present itself. I personally doubt that children who are diagnosed with ODD younger and grow out of it; were truly ODD children. Why age 8? That's when life starts putting more pressure on your child - to do more homework, to work more independently, and so forth. Often ODD children are just fine as long as EVERYTHING is going their way. But that's not how the real world operates.
One of the worst days of my life was when our oldest had her first major temper tantrum. She had to miss a birthday party because she refused to comply with our rule about not climbing the fence and going to the neighbor's yard (we lived in a metropolitan area at the time and we did not consider leaving the yard without permission a safe practice).
She had a temper tantrum that lasted for 8 hours. If you've never experienced such, it would be hard for me to explain how miserable that is for both you and your child. I was at the end of my rope long before the tantrum ended, thinking that I would be willing to do almost anything to be released from the torture.
After 8 hours, she decided it was time to take a bath and go to bed. That was it. She decided it was over and it was. I was flabbergasted, but greatly relieved.
Not long after, she became very upset because we refused to let her bring home baby chicks that had been hatched at school. We simply did not have the facilities to house chickens, even if city ordinances would have allowed it.
Our daughter responded by drawing red marks on her neck as if she had cut herself and coming into my room with two butter knives which she stabbed into my pillow while I was napping. Later, she climbed out of a second story window and was hanging there when a neighbor found her. I'll never forget her staring straight into my eyes as she hung, waiting for my husband and the neighbor to get a ladder to rescue her. It seemed to say, "see, I will always get the upper hand." Years later, she confirmed that she had looked at me pretty much with that message.
She spent a week in the hospital and was the darling of the hall. She charmed everyone. The nurses loved her. Thankfully her doctor was savvy to ODD and told her that she was putting her family at risk. She was so young that he had to explain the concept of risk; to her. He was so right. We spent the next ten years living as a family at risk.
We put many, many miles in taking our oldest to psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors. She was put on various medications at different times. She was hospitalized again several years later. She was evaluated for ADD and was found to have a mild version of it. She also has an auditory processing disability. As if life weren't hard enough on her with her irritable personality, she also did not always understand what she was being told.
For our daughter, medication never really seemed to help, though we supposed it did. It changed her behavior, but didn't really make it better. Plus many of them made her sleepy during school, which caused problems of its own. When our psychiatrist first mentioned that we needed to think about taking her off of medication at some point - she'd been on medications for over 6 years at the time - I panicked. I needed all of the help I could get to cope.
But it was evident that she put very little effort into working with her medications. I kept hearing from the psychiatrists that this behavior or that wouldn't be helped by the medications unless she put effort into it.
When we finally made the decision to wean her off of meds, we figured out what the effect had truly been. On medication, she would often have several good days in a row followed by a horrible temper tantrum that would last two or three hours or more. Off medication, she had no good days, spending much of her time annoying others trying to get a rise out of them, but she had mostly outgrown the very long, intense temper tantrums. It was a tradeoff, to be sure.
Through the years, we have had many bizarre situations. She was fond of calling the police to report us for various violations including making her go to school. She also would start screaming, "Stop hitting me," while we were on the telephone talking with 911 when she had called them and hung up. She really knows no boundaries and cannot anticipate consequences.
She scratched the word "loser" into the paint of my car. She locked me out of the house in freezing weather while I was barefoot and in a nightgown. She threatened to kill a sick rabbit and often mistreated or teased the family pets to get a rise out of the pet's owner.
We developed a routine when her tantrums started. Our son would take his two younger sisters and their pets to his room and lock the door. We never had to ask. It was like a fire drill where everyone knew their part.
I grieved for all of the hours and hours of their lives that were lost, sitting in his room, listening to the tantrum and wondering how far it would go this time. I had wanted so much more for all of our children.
Luckily, my husband and I have strong marriage. Otherwise, I'm not sure we would have made it. When our oldest was ten years old, we calculated that we had a minimum of 8 more years and we just didn't think we could do it.
We talked about separating once so that each would only have to deal with her behaviors half of the time. I'm glad we didn't choose that, but truthfully, the break would have been wonderful.
I would love to tell you that we figured this whole thing out. We didn't. We understand ODD more and know our daughter's patterns of behavior well. We instituted many changes that helped somewhat. For example, we picked our battles carefully, made sure that she understood directions enough to be able to repeat them back to us, and wrote down expectations.
I have to believe that all of the hard work we put into rearing her will pay off at some point. Although we have no happy ending, I know that things could have been a lot worse. And occasionally, we get a glimpse of the person she just might develop into one day. All we can do is hope for the best.
If you are dealing with an ODD child, please find at least one other person who is also dealing with an ODD child or has lived through it. Support and understanding are very hard to come by. The main reason is that ODD children are masters of manipulation and charm. Outsiders who meet your child casually will have no reason to think that they are anything but wonderful to be around. If there's a problem, then the parents must be the ones causing all of the trouble.
The first time I heard, "I know exactly what you are talking about; we have the same situation with our child," I could have cried from relief. Finally someone really understood what we were going through.