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What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)?

Updated Apr 19, 2024

Reviewed By: Erin Black

Table Of Content

From an early age, Mattox has faced challenges in managing his impulsiveness, behavior, and big emotions. These difficulties began to significantly disrupt his school life and precious moments spent with his family.  

Mattox’s mother had a single, overarching objective: for Mattox to experience happiness and ease within his own body. She wanted his vibrant personality to be the most memorable aspect about him, not his defiance and disruptive behavior. 

Mattox’s parents tried everything to help him, including dietary adjustments, therapies, medications, and various other avenues. But challenges persisted, and she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more going on.

Just like Mattox’s mom, as parents, we are always trying to do what is in the best interest of our children. We try to provide a loving, caring home with structure and discipline, but when we are met with constant, disruptive defiance, it’s hard to know where to turn next.

Mattox’s story happens to so many, and usually results in numerous doctor visits, and can end up with a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder or ODD. From there, the doctor may recommend mood stabilizer medications such as Abilify or Risperdal, which come with a long list of nasty side effects. 

You feel stuck, not wanting your child to continue to struggle and severely disrupt life for your entire family, but also not wanting to put them on hard-hitting medications that may have lasting negative effects on their brain and neurodevelopment. 

That is where  Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic Care comes in. Parents, we’re here to help! For 15+ years, we’ve been helping kids and adults handle their neurological challenges without medications, and we’ll break down the science, neurology, and action steps of that process here in this article. 

What is ODD? 

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a behavioral condition that affects children and adolescents.  It is normal for children to be oppositional and defiant at times, in fact, it is a sign of healthy development.  But when a child’s behavioral pattern is well-established, disruptive, and persistent, it may be a sign of ODD. 

The diagnosis should not be given to a toddler who has just discovered that their new favorite word is “no.” Typically, ODD is diagnosed around early elementary school ages and stops being diagnosed around adolescence. Children with ODD have a continuing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and sometimes hostile behavior toward people in authority, such as parents, teachers, and other caregivers. This behavior can disrupt their normal daily functioning, including relationships and activities within their family and at school, significantly lowering the quality of life for the entire family. 

ODD is more common in boys at younger ages, but the disorder affects boys and girls equally in their teenage years.  It is worth noting that the majority of children and teens who have ODD also have at least one other neurodevelopmental challenge, such as: 

  • ADHD
  • Anxiety Disorders (including OCD)
  • Mood Disorders (such as Depression)
  • Impulse Control Disorders
  • Motor Tics 

If ODD is not properly managed, it can continue into adulthood and develop into a more serious behavior condition called “Conduct Disorder.” Signs of Conduct Disorder include: 

  • Frequently breaking serious rules, such as running away from home, staying out all night, or skipping school. 
  • Being aggressive in a way that causes harm, such as bullying, fighting, or being cruel to animals.
  • Lying, Stealing, or damaging other people’s property. 

What are the Symptoms of ODD?

What is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)? | PX Docs

As touched on above, the main component of ODD is defiance. Some specific behaviors that may be used to determine if your child has ODD include: 

  • Frequent temper tantrums
  • Being unusually angry and irritable 
  • Arguing with authority figures
  • Refusing to do what adults ask or follow rules
  • Being easily annoyed or offended often
  • Deliberately annoying people
  • Blaming others for mistakes
  • Speaking harshly or unkind
  • Being vindictive
  • Being hostile or aggressive towards others, including peers and siblings
  • Purposely procrastinating on tasks or chores

Again, it is important to note that all children display some of these behaviors at times, especially during periods of stress or frustration.  However, for a diagnosis of ODD, these behaviors must be persistent and disruptive, causing problems at home, school, or in other areas of a child’s life. 

What Causes ODD?

There are several theories in the traditional medical world as to what causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Two of the main theories on how individuals acquire certain behaviors or traits are described below:  

  1. Developmental Theory:

Suggests that certain behaviors and traits are innate and arise naturally as a result of biological maturation and growth. Developmental theorists believe that individuals go through various stages of development, each characterized by specific cognitive, emotional, and social milestones. These stages are thought to be universal and biologically determined, meaning that all individuals will go through them in a predetermined sequence. 

  1. Learned Theory:

Suggests that individuals acquire behaviors and traits through their experiences and interactions with the environment. Learned theorists argue that individuals learn through a process of conditioning, which involves associating certain behaviors with rewards or punishments. This learning can occur through direct experience, observation of others, or through communication with others. 

Developmental theorists might argue that ODD arises from a failure to develop appropriate emotional regulation skills during childhood. In contrast, learned theorists might argue that ODD arises from the learned patterns of behavior that have been reinforced through rewards or punishments. 

  1. Neurodevelopmental (“Perfect Storm”) Theory:

While those two theories both likely contribute to the development and presentation of ODD in kids, perhaps a more accurate direction to explore as a root cause is what we call the “The Perfect Storm” theory, which simply states that there is a series of significant stressors that occur early and often during a child’s crucial developmental period in life (in-utero to early childhood) that negatively affect brain development and function, leaving the child’s entire nervous system in an excessive state of sympathetic (fight-or-flight) tone and response. That imbalanced neurological state is a condition known as dysautonomia

To really get to the contributing and causative factors of ODD, we need to start by looking at all the “Perfect Storm” contributors and triggers that the child was exposed to early in life.  These then stack up and lead to problems associated with ODD later on in childhood and life. 

This Perfect Storm, in the majority of cases, always begins at the start of a baby’s life, as far back as when they are in utero. A stressful pregnancy or birth interventions such as forceps, vacuum, induction, or c-section during labor can result in trauma to the baby. This physical trauma to the baby’s body results in subluxation, leading to a perpetual stress response within the nervous system that leaves it in an excessive, sustained sympathetic state.

The other side of dysautonomia is equally troublesome, in that an excessive fight-or-flight response means that the parasympathetic “rest and relax” side of the nervous system is under-stimulated and not functioning properly. The main nerve that governs and modulates the parasympathetic calming side of the nervous system is called the Vagus Nerve.

The vagus nerve is a key component of the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system and plays a crucial role in regulating various bodily functions, including heart rate, digestion, and stress response. It also influences social engagement and emotional regulation.

Some studies have indicated that abnormalities in Autonomic Nervous System functioning, including vagal tone (the measure of vagus nerve activity), may be associated with behavioral problems and emotional dysregulation seen in children with disruptive behavior disorders, such as ODD. These studies have suggested that lower vagal tone may be related to increased risk for these disorders.

Putting this all together, kids struggling with ODD most commonly have a significantly imbalanced and dysfunctional nervous system. While going through these “testing boundaries” and behavioral challenges is normal for a short period in life, when a child gets “stuck” in them for years and years, it’s a sign of abnormal development.

ODD can be a complex neurological disorder that doesn’t have just one causative factor or trigger to it, which is why it is important to have a doctor on your side that understands the role that central nervous system dysfunction plays. 

Drug-Free ODD Treatment Options

Traditional medical doctors will suggest treatment options for ODD that include therapy, medication, and parenting education. 

But therapy and parental education will not be as effective until the root cause of the condition is addressed and your child’s nervous system has a chance to get back to a state of balance and proper vagal tone, and medications come with a whole host of nasty side effects.

Parents today want care options for their children that address the root cause and offer drug-free solutions, and that is exactly what Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic Care seeks to do for kids struggling with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. 

Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic Care 

Our drug-free option dives right into the root cause of ODD, an overstressed and imbalanced Central Nervous System, through Neurologically-Focused Chiropractic Care.

One of the best parts about the natural route of chiropractic is that we don’t look for a “cure” for ODD, and we don’t seek to simply manage the symptoms.  We shift our perspective to reducing the stress and tension stuck on the child’s nervous system and maximizing their potential by activating and stimulating the parasympathetic side (vagal nerve tone) of the nervous system. 

The first thing your trained and ready Neurologically-Focused PX Doc will do is start by taking an in-depth, personalized case history of your child.  They will then perform INSiGHT scans, which is an incredible piece of technology that can directly measure how much imbalance and dysautonomia are affecting your child’s nervous system and exactly where subluxation is located. This is the most essential step in helping a child with ODD. 

They will then put together a customized care plan and begin making neurologically-focused adjustments to release the built-up tension within your child’s nervous system and restore balance to the autonomic nervous system and parasympathetic “rest and relax” system.

Looking at Mattox’s first set of INSiGHT scans, it was clear he was very stuck in an overstressed and imbalanced nervous system that left him pushing hard on the gas pedal at all times. Once he started his care plan and was receiving adjustments, his parents noticed immediate changes. He was calmer, happier, more agreeable, and able to regulate/adapt when things didn’t go his way. As he progressed, they saw additional improvements such as better sleep, easier transitions, and digestive health.  Today he is happy, thriving, and so enjoyable to be around, which couldn’t make his mom any happier. 

You can learn more about our 5-Step Clinical process here, and once you are ready to get some drug-free help and support for your child, visit our directory and find a PX Doc local to your area.

We are here to help your child overcome their struggles with ODD and to help them become the best versions of themselves they can be.  Every child wants to be accepted and praised, and we are here to provide the Hope, Answers, and Help you are looking for to make this a daily occurrence for your child! 

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