The Behaviour Question

15th June 2012 at 01:00

Has anybody ever come across oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) before? I mean a diagnosed case, not just a child who fits the criteria. I know it isn't very professional, but the child in question is horrible. To be completely honest, nothing works. We're just told to remove him when necessary (which is most of the time). He will probably end up being permanently excluded before the end of Year 8. His mum thinks he can't help it because of his condition.

What you said


The word "naughty" was sufficient when I was a child. Cosy new expressions for things are always much longer than the succinct old ones. Ultimately it doesn't really matter what you call it. The child has to learn to behave normally. If he doesn't he will end up in prison, so there certainly shouldn't be any kind of allowances made, just firm boundaries and high expectations.


I am also working with a pupil diagnosed with ODD and it's tough. We very much want to succeed with him. We have negotiated an individual contract with the pupil and his parents where everyone is agreed on actions, consequences and so on. Ultra-clear boundaries with immediate consequences seem particularly important for him. The parents have to come and pick up the child from school immediately if the contract is breached.

The expert view

ODD is controversial. Like many diagnoses, it appears to me to be a collection of symptoms that are collated and described as a syndrome. Which implies that it's a condition, and not simply... well, a collection of difficult behaviours.

I tend to think it's the latter. I fear that we are far too eager to medicalise normal, if extreme, parts of the human behaviour spectrum. So instead of looking to amend the behaviours, we allow for them; we placate and endure them, when what the child really needs is for someone to train them how to change their ways. And even if it does exist, the child still needs guidance on how to function in mainstream society, otherwise they are condemned to a life of dysfunctionality on the margins.

Far better to treat them not as a collection of symptoms, but as human beings, who deserve boundaries guided by love, in order to show them that there are alternatives to wilfulness, egotism and instant gratification. And if they can't cope in a mainstream school, then they need to be moved to a place where they can receive the attention and one-to-one assistance they need. And that the rest of the class needs. And you. Good luck.

Tom Bennett is author of The Behaviour Guru and Not Quite a Teacher.

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