ODD Diagnoses are a cover-up for bad interventions.
Across the state of West Virginia, we are working with wonderful children and teens with autism diagnoses, who, when stressed and angry, act out in intense ways.
Schools, doctors and other clinicians are labeling these children with ODD – Oppositional Defiant Disorder – instead of recognizing that these are kids on the autism spectrum, and that one defining feature of autism is struggling with communication. For the higher functioning kids and teens, this struggle can mean not knowing how to communicate in the healthiest ways when upset or in stress! (and how many of us communicate well when stressed????) Sadly, teachers, administrators, and other clinicians start punishing stressed kids and teens, making the problem worse. Stressed kids on the autism spectrum need SUPPORT, not punishment.
When your child or teen on the autism spectrum starts mouthing off, this is a sign of stress… and your child or teen needs your help (or a teacher’s help) calming down. At school, we highly recommend frequent time-out breaks for all ages: for younger students this can be time in the classroom quiet area (which you can demand your classrooms include), and for teens we recommend a quiet break to re-group reading or online in the media center (put frequent breaks into your IEP). At home, mouthiness is a sign your child or teen needs rest – a break from people and chores or homework, an earlier bed, a chance to unwind. Think about time online, time reading books, time with arts and crafts or Minecraft.
The worst thing to do with a teen or child on the spectrum who is winding up and getting more upset is to confront and challenge them! This is when things get out of hand – parents start making threats they can’t enforce; schools start threatening detention and expulsion; clinicians start suggesting meds or more restrictive environments. If you are an adult and you find yourself getting upset and angry with your kid on the spectrum, then this is a sign that things are out of hand and since you are the adult YOU NEED TO BACK OFF.
If we want our children of any age to learn to be flexible people, then we ourselves need to meet their stress with flexibility. Let your child finish a chore later; let your child unwind with a netflix video; give everyone a break from homework and come back to it – together – later. And if schools can’t be flexible, it may be time for you as parent to demand another IEP meeting.
Oppositional defiance disorder is no excuse for adults who can’t support people with autism diagnoses – whether that human is four years old or sixteen. Parents need to stand up for their children and teens, and create safe spaces so kids on the autism spectrum get the room to grow and thrive and learn just like everyone else.
Watch out of ODD diagnoses. If you need interventions, and your school or doctor is refusing to work with you, GET HELP. Find a clinician or teacher who is trained in positive behavioral supports and get an ally for you and your child. Build more family quiet time into your day, and get an IEP that supports your child. Children and teens on the autism spectrum need help learning how to communicate effectively. If they aren’t getting that help, don’t let professionals use any diagnostic label to cover up the real interventions your child needs.
We have worked with families and schools around West Virginia, helping classrooms include appropriate quiet areas and getting mandatory breaks for students, as well as helping families build stress-busting activities into their day. If you need help, please contact us; we wanna support you and your family.