Monday, April 25, 2011

Oppositional Behavior ODD or Trauma

Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Trauma?
by Caelan Kuban

Children with a history of traumatic experiences exhibit greater oppositional defiant behaviors than children without exposure to trauma. This is most likely the result of the negative physiological impact trauma has on core regulatory systems, compromising a child’s ability to regulate and process sensory inputs. Changes in the body’s critical stress response system prevent the modulation of sensory deregulation, making the child incapable of self-regulating their emotions and behavior. The experience of trauma increases vulnerability to stressors, even mild stressors that healthy individuals are able to handle. For example, simple problem solving becomes difficult, causing anger and confusion in a child that simply “does not know what to do” about a situation, ultimately resulting in rage, aggression and other oppositional defiant-like disorders.

Under stress, traumatized children’s analytical capacities are limited and behaviorally react with confusion, withdrawal and/or rage. Rather than making a gradual shift from right brain hemisphere dominance (feeling and sensory) to dominance of the left hemisphere (language, reasoning, problem solving) resulting in an integration of neural communication between hemispheres, they react only from their “sensory” or right brain often lacking the “thought” or planning before action is taken.

Interestingly, many of the symptoms and reactions present in Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) are parallel to the symptoms and reactions in children post-trauma. More than 800,000 children are exposed to trauma annually from abuse and neglect alone. Twenty percent of those children are observed to have dramatic changes in behavior consistent with ODD following a traumatic event. It would be beneficial to develop guidelines helping pediatricians and other early childhood professionals routinely screen for the presence of trauma-related symptoms and impairments even in very young children. This would prevent the mislabeling of ODD in later years. As one of the top diagnoses given to children today, it is certainly important to understand both the etiology and intervention options proposed for ODD. When ODD is viewed from a biological and trauma-informed perspective, compassion from parents, caregivers, and teachers often follows.


Last Mom said...

Thank you for that article. I am going to repost on my blog. I think most of my kiddo's alphabet soup of diagnosis's over her 5 years in foster care were incorrect. I think her issues all stem from trauma and attachment disorder.

Jessie Hogsett said...

Hey this is a great blog! I was diagnosed with reactive Attachment at a young age and was in a grouphome for 2 years 13-15. I now help other kids and families with similar issues. I have a book coming out end of september that provides a first hand look at someone with RAD and what life deals them and how to overcome it. I look forward to hearing more..Jessie

Erika said...

Totally agree. Since I started thinking in terms of complex trauma/developmental trauma, I see all RAD behaviors through that lens - and it changes my perspective and my likely response to it. It's much easier to parent a child who is fearful and who therefore tries to control his/her environment (manipulate) than a child who manipulates the adults around her, right? I see all the RAD checklist behaviors as reactions to trauma - and I see a way through to parent those behaviors and alleviate those symptoms as well.

The Accidental Mommy said...

Nice article. It is so difficult to pinpoint what is causing a child's behavior with a psychiatric diagnosis.

Anonymous said...

All this information reinforces what I have known and has provided additional insight; thank you.
I have a horrible situation unfolding. I am going through a horrific divorce. My child has been traumatized for years by her father. Because she does not want to have a relationship with her father, she is being labeled with ODD and I being labeled an alienator. She doesn't have ODD. And I am a protective parent. Her reaction to reunification and therapy stems from what she has been through for 11 years. The system and the professionals court appointed are failing my child.
The "professionals" assigned by the courts all state there is not abuse. Even with bruises. They just keep putting the blame on my child. What can I do so the "professionals" know the differenc b/w ODD and trauma.

Brenda said...


Seek out a therapist or psychologist who specializes in attachment or trauma. If you cannot find this, look for one who does EMDR, which is a form of trauma therapy. Best of luck in your search.