Oppositional Defiant Disorder Definition and Description

Full description of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD. Definition, signs, symptoms, causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Full description of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Definition, signs, symptoms, causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder.

Description of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

All kids, especially very young children, are defiant, express anger, or talk back at some time or another. It's developmentally appropriate as children learn to assert themselves and learn boundaries and expected behaviors. However, when the behavior becomes increasingly hostile, is a serious concern for parents, teachers and other adults, starts affecting family, friends and school performance, and continues for a significant amount of time, the child may be diagnosed with Oppositional Defiance Disorder.

Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder are stubborn, difficult, and disobedient without being physically aggressive or actually violating the rights of others. The Merck Manual reports ODD usually develops by age 8.

There are various statistics on the incidence of Oppositional Definance Disorder in the U.S. Numbers range from 2-16% of children and teens in the U.S. have ODD.

Typical behaviors of children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder include arguing with adults; losing their temper; actively defying rules and instructions; blaming others for their own mistakes; and being angry, resentful, and easily annoyed. These children do know the difference between right and wrong and feel guilty if they do anything that is seriously wrong.

Diagnostic Criteria for Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

A pattern of negativistic, hostile, and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months, during which four (or more) of the following are present:

  • often loses temper
  • often argues with adults
  • often actively defies or refuses to comply with adults' requests or rules
  • often deliberately annoys people
  • often blames others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
  • is often touchy or easily annoyed by others
  • is often angry and resentful
  • is often spiteful or vindictive

Note: Consider a criterion met only if the behavior occurs more frequently than is typically observed in individuals of comparable age and developmental level.

The disturbance in behavior causes clinically significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

The behaviors do not occur exclusively during the course of a Psychotic or Mood Disorder.

Criteria are not met for Conduct Disorder, and, if the individual is age 18 years or older, criteria are not met for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Several theories about the causes of Oppositional Defiant Disorder are being investigated. ODD may be related to:

  • the child's temperament and the family's response to that temperament
  • an inherited predisposition to the disorder in some families
  • marital discord or violence between husband and wife
  • frequent or multiple geographical moves
  • a neurological cause, such as a head injury
  • a chemical imbalance in the brain (especially with the brain chemical serotonin)

Researchers report that Oppositional Defiant Disorder appears to be more common in families where a parent has a history of a mood disorder, conduct disorder, ADHD, antisocial personality disorder, or a substance abuse disorder. Some studies also suggest that having a mother with a depressive disorder can result in a child with ODD.

For more on oppositional defiant disorder and extensive information on parenting challenging children, visit the Parenting Community.

Sources: 1. American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association. 2. Merck Manual, Home Edition for Patients and Caregivers, last revised 2006. 3. Tynan, W. Douglas, PhD. "Oppositional Defiant Disorder." eMedicine November 2, 2003.

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2009, January 2). Oppositional Defiant Disorder Definition and Description, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 18 from

Last Updated: July 29, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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