ODD & Oppositional Rising

Part of the ADD/ADHD Cormbidities series
(Dark gray links become obvious on mouse-over)

Small Blessings

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

Fortunately, most of us with ADD do NOT have full-blown, comorbid, diagnositic ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder – a protracted “terrible twos,” on steroids!  

Almost ALL of us, howeverADD or not, have a small – perfectly “normal” – part of our personalities that balks unless the task is totally appealing in the moment we are “supposed” to take it on.

Part of developmental maturity is learning how to “postpone gratification” and work with what some therapists and self-help gurus call “the self-saboteur.”  (I prefer to think of it as learning how to bribe our Inner Three-Year olds.”)  

In any case, and for whatever reason, those of us who qualify for an ADD diagnosis, even those who aren’t particularly impulsive otherwise, seem to struggle with “postponing gratification” more than the neurotypical population: sort of like having “ODD Rising.”


“ODD Rising” and “Oppositional Rising” are my terms for what I refer to as “a high oppositional piece” in an ADD symptom profile.

In fact, those of us with ANY of what I call thealphabet disorders(any or all of the disorders with Executive Function dysregulations) tend to have “pieces” of other EFD’s — like OCD, ODD, SPD, ASD, PDA, PDD, MDD, MS, TBI, ABI, PTSD, etc. — alphabet disorders!

So don’t be surprised if ODD Rising is on your menu of Challenges, even if ADD is not the primary diagnosis. So let’s take a look at what might be going on — with your own functioning, or that of a loved one.

To be clear, ODD rising is significantly below the diagnostic threshold for ODD, yet severe enough to make us feel a little crazy as we wonder what it is, exactly, that is stopping us from achievement commensurate with our level of intelligence or education.

I keep up with the ODD field, as I keep a keen eye on all of the ADD Comorbid diagnoses, but ODD itself is not my speciality. 

My focus is applying what I learn from related disorders to help those with Attentional Spectrum Disorders work with whatever it is that is going on with them: helping them learn to drive their very own brains.

AFTER I offer a brief introduction to diagnostic ODD, the remainder of this article will introduce the “oppositional piece” concept. I will revisit ODD in future articles exploring ADD comorbidities — conditions that frequently accompany an ADD diagnosis, to a statistically significant degree more often than in the neurotypical population.

If you are a parent of a child with diagnostic ODD:

At the bottom of this article, and peppered within it, are some links to information you may find helpful, like the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s ODD Resource Center, and the link to their “ODD search page” below.

My ideas and concepts below may help you understand and work with some of your reactions, but probably won’t be particularly helpful with theirs.

I wish there were something I could tell you that would ease your child’s passage, but much of whatever I might suggest I’m sure you have already tried, with little to no success.

molumen_small_funny_angry_monsterMy heart goes out to you.

  • I know that NOBODY understands (or believes)
    what you go through every single day.
  • ALMOST EVERYBODY seems ready to jump in to tell you what you are doing “wrong” as a parent.
  • They hold forth with their plain vanilla parenting tips
    with tut-tut-tuts and rolled eyes, blissfully unaware of the arrogance of their opinions.
  • Maybe these words will encourage one or two of them, at least, to withhold judgment – even to offer a bit of emotional support.

NOW let’s move on to the difference between ODD and “ODD rising”


So what Is Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Briefly, ODD is a disorder marked by varying degrees of chronic aggression, frequent over-the-top emotional outbursts (often accompanied by a rage component), a high tendency to argue for its own sake, to ignore, if not openly defy, even the most reasonable or innocuous requests, and to engage in intentional behavior designed to annoy.

Hold that Thought

Before you follow that thought that sounds something like, “Isn’t that the definition of a typical teenager?” I want you to understand that, while these tendencies do occur in children and teens who are developing neurotypically, individuals with diagnostic ODD are way outside any idea of “normal” behavior that most of us might ever expect to see.

Psychiatrists frequently say that ODD characteristics are “beyond age-appropriate behavior norms,” which doesn’t BEGIN to describe the severity of the symptoms.

As with ADD, there are many ideas about what causes ODD, whether it is even a “real” diagnosis, and what to DO about it, with relatively few definitive answers.

ANOTHER relatively uncommon diagnosis with similar behavior is PDA: Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome – an autistic spectrum disorder, which is beyond the scope of this article or my own areas of expertise.  Jane Sherwin is your resource for that one.

Only TWO of the highly detailed and informative first person accounts of parenting a child with PDA are below:


Risky Business

According to this linked article on the ADDitude Magazine website, some professionals believe that up to 40 percent of children with ADHD are at high risk for developing ODD, possibly related to the high incidence of impulsivity frequently accompanying ADD — which is especially problematic in children with gross motor hyperactivity as a key piece of their symptom profile.

Other professionals believe ODD develops as a maladaptive coping mechanism in reaction to the frustration and emotional distress of living with ADD/ADHD, coupled with the paradoxical effect of “traditional” parenting techniques, which inadvertently “fan the flame.”

Medical Professionals say that approximately half of all ODD preschoolers will have outgrown the problem by the third grade (roughly, age 8) — which slides very neatly over the other, more daunting reality:  after the third grade, the other half of the ODD childhood population is likely NOT to outgrow it without some serious effort expended on their behalf.

Early intervention seems particularly important with ODD. If left untreated, oppositional behavior can evolve into conduct disorder and more serious behavioral problems that can follow a child into adulthood, quite possibly into a life of crime.

Sun astrology

Oppositional Rising?

I borrow a concept from the astrology community to talk about what I call a “high oppositional piece” – the “ODD rising” many of us in the ADD universe seem to experience, with various degrees of severity,

Whether you believe in astrology or not is immaterial. Many of its concepts are aptly descriptive, providing useful metaphors and analogies that help to explain and discuss human behaviors without pathologizing them.

It’s interesting to note that there are almost as many schools of thought about astrology as there are about ADD – but we’re only going to pay attention to the ones that embrace the idea that there’s an up side and a down side to almost everything, and that understanding what we were born with gives us a great deal of “free will” in handling it!

So what is a rising sign?

Let’s back up half a step. With apologies to serious astrologers for the unsophisticated explanation, one’s sun sign is the one you might look up in almost any newstand magazine that has an astrology column.  Since your sun sign is based upon the time of your birth, it’s pretty easy to look up a “horoscope”  where some astrologer gives you a general paragraph or two about what the stars say about everyone born with the same sun sign for any particular month.

Your sun sign is the “context” or “basket” in which you hold your life.

For those of us with ADD, our metaphorical “sun sign” is ADD!  It does seem to be the basket in which we hold an awful lot of almost everything.

And, just like a room full of Scorpios or Libras (or any other sun sign in the Zodiac) will have enough characteristics in common that they all can sort of relate to that generalized magazine horoscope, those of us with ADD can sort of relate to many of the descriptions we read about what’s going on with us — with a whole lot of individual differences totally uncommented upon until we delve MUCH more deeply into either arena. 

In astro-speak, your rising sign is “the face you present to the world” – which leads me to “oppositional rising”

  • That is exactly what has to happen to be able to manage ODD Rising too.
  • The next step is understanding the nature of this “oppositional piece” and the extent to which it causes trouble with our ability to reach our goals and manage our lives — no matter whether we present it to the world or grapple with it alone, trying our darndest not to let it show.

Going through “NO DAMNED WAY!” to get to “yes”

I’m sure you know somebody who seems to have an argument for just about everything – most of us do.

Have you ever noticed that if you can simply let the idea drop without comment or further attempts to persuade, your nay-sayer frequently has a change of heart that might as well be an about-face? (That is, unless you simply can’t resist pointing out that they have had a change of heart – in which case, they’ll argue with you forever!)

The WORST thing you can do to those with ODD Rising is to attempt to push them to a change in point of view they are simply not ready to embrace!  They’ll dig in and defend every single time.

That’s exactly the tactic that is necessary to work with our own oppositional pieces: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain of no-no-no!  Leave him alone and he’ll probably come around on his own – as long as you don’t make a federal case out of it when he does.

It’s not ABOUT “logic” or “convenience”  or “selfishnish” or “grubbing for power” — or anything else that those who are fairly amiable folks might believe.  After ALL, you easy going fella’s would never be so intractable without a darned good reason, and only the psychologically unhealthy among you would refuse to even listen to points of view that might allow you to see the subject differently, right?


Old Television Sets

I’m sure some of you will find this difficult to believe, but “back in the olden days” televisions had NO remotes.

We actually had to walk across the room to change the channel on our television sets, turning a mechanical knob affixed to the front of the set itself.

Some TV sets came with knobs that turned more easily than others, but even a young child had enough hand strength to twirl the dial. You amiable, agreeable folks are like those old TV sets: it doesn’t take much to change your channel.

Try to imagine what might happen if one of those young children changed the channel with the remnants of a very gooey peanut butter and jelly sandwich all over his hands, gumming up the works.  Let’s pretend that happened right before your entire family left for vacation.  “Turn off the TV, Steven, we’re ready to leave right NOW.”

By the time you returned, whatever was gumming up the works was rock solid. The dial is now stuck.  FIRST you have to warm it up, then you have to wipe it off — and until you do, changing the channel suddenly becomes a difficult process indeed.

Those with ODD Rising have a channel changer that’s “stuck” — it doesn’t move without a great deal of energy and effort.  They need time to “warm up” to the new idea and to “wipe off” the remnants of their old point of view.

Like my father used to say — all the time — “If it doesn’t go, don’t force it!”  

Although I’m fairly certain he was referring to mechanical processes, not cognitive ones, it turns out to have been a pretty good mantra for just about everything.

Try it on for size!

Cingulate Inflexibility

With advance apologies to my colleagues in the neuroscience fields for the oversimplification, in a future article in this series we’re going to take a look at what has to happen in our brain to be ready-willing-and-ABLE to “change our minds,” which is not too very different from changing a channel on an old television set (in concept). So stay tuned!

MEANWHILE, take a look at ABOUT ADD Comorbidities and Overfocusing: Cognitive Inflexibility and the Cingulate Gyrus (Stubborn or STUCK?) — or any of the OTHER links to Related Content below.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in this series – or any new posts on this blog – give your name and email to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right.

(You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too) STRICT No Spam Policy

Related articles here on ADDandSoMuchMore.com

For links in context: run your cursor over the article above and the dark grey links will turn dark red;
(subtle, so they don’t pull focus while you read, but you can find them to click when you’re ready for them)
— and check out the links to other Related Content in each of the articles themselves —

Oppositional Defiant Disorder ’round the ‘net

UPDATE 12/16/2012: For anyone who doesn’t understand what *real* ODD affect looks like, click: I am Adam Lanza’s Mother for an empathy lesson you will NEVER forget.

ODD Power Point Presentation (with access to more):

PDA Resources:

Other related infolinks

BY THE WAY: Since ADDandSoMuchMore.com is an Evergreen site, I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

12 Responses to ODD & Oppositional Rising

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  7. janesherwin says:

    Hi Madelyn, another excellent post and I totally agree with everything that you say.

    I do wonder just how many children that are diagnosed with ODD on its own and are viewed as having purely a behavioral problem actually have an underlying condition which causes the oppositional and deviant behavior. This can lead to too much time being focused on altering the behavior using methods that only serve to heighten the behavior rather than focusing on the route course.

    My daughter’s profile would easily put her in the bracket for a diagnosis of ODD however the route cause is a neurological problem rather than a purely behavioral problem.

    As you quite rightly say Madelyn if a child has ADD / ADHD then it is the management of the primary condition that will then in itself manage the secondary condition. A child may present with ODD but if the route cause is ASD or, as in my daughters case PDA, it is the primary condition that requires the correct management first.

    I am concerned that these underlying conditions may be going unnoticed by many practitioners, they certainly are in the UK !! Challenging and Deviant behavior often mask the symptoms of the underlying cause and so, in some cases, it may never be identified. In my opinion one of the main reasons for challenging behavior can be heightened anxiety based around the fact that the child’s difficulties have not being truly identified or understood.

    I love this blog, even though my area of interest is ASD and PDA your posts are also highly relevant for me. ADD often travels with ASD and so I can see so many similarities, perhaps they are all part of one big family !!! Many children with PDA were previously diagnosed with Aspergers & ADHD, PDD NOS, Attachment disorder, ASD & ODD, Pediatric Bi Polar to name but a few.

    In the UK we are campaigning for PDA to be recognized as a separate sub group within the Autism Spectrum because of the different strategies that are required for management. We have been having quite a few families from the USA joining our facegroup pages and we have recently set up a USA PDA facegroup page too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is my belief that we will eventually have proof that MANY of the “purely behavioral” issues are, in fact, the result of an underlying neuro-biological situation. Not that it will make a great deal of difference in behavioral presentation, but it will make a HUGE difference in our willingness to look for ways to help, and in what we try.

      Since WE may not be alive to see the proof materialize, I’m big on the “can’t” vs. “won’t” distinction — best approach to turn “can’t” into CAN. Empathy is generally a much better strategy than censure — across the board.

      It seems that the UK is far ahead of the U.S. in Autistic Spectrum advocacy – no doubt that’s why you’ve gotten U.S. interest on FaceBook. I have to seriously ration my FB time to get much of anything else done – but the next time I jump over there, I’ll add my name to your membership rosters. I know how much the numbers help.

      Sadly, you probably won’t be able to count on me for much more than a few “likes” otherwise. I am already working practically every waking hour, and I need to save SOME time to bathe and dig out my living space. 😮



      • janesherwin says:

        hello, it appears that we are on exactly the same wave length with regard to underlying neurological problems, which is great. We all have different roles in order to spread awareness and your talent is in so many different areas which is already making such a difference. Facebook is just another avenue to explore but we can leave that to others. Just your support, recognition and understanding is enough. Thank you for your support xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  8. One of my daughters has ADD and “some” ODD but as they relate to her Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our real issues with ODD, although not the kind that will land her in jail, are with my eldest daughter who has ADHD. Thanks so much for this resource. I was pleasantly surprised to see you had pinged my Alphabet Soup entry because its what led me here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Congrats on the ADD kids – ALL the best people have ADD. 🙂

      Your ADDer with, perhaps, ODD rising, may well “outgrow it” – ADD teens can be unbearable to their parents and still grow up to be lovely human beings (one of my colleagues had the 2 greatest teens – the only one who never got to see how great they were was HER! They’re older now, so it didn’t last forever)

      Thanks for responding to the ping, btw. I try to remember to leave a comment as well – because it frequently means a link to you from one of my articles. BUT, sometimes I get distracted before it happens. So I’m thrilled you’re here. (I think that post is linked to another article as well, btw. – I really like that post!)

      I like your blog a bunch. If you write anything that relates to something here and I don’t catch it, leave a link in a comment. (I’ll eventually sift thru the spam, find and approve, even if Akismet gets grouchy. THEN, on a day when I’m procrastinating something else, I’ll insert the link into the “relateds” – not everybody reads the comments.


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