Oppositional Defiant Disorder: How This Mom Deals

Philosophy: No matter what acronym he’s diagnosed with, at the end of our very long days, he’s still my Jack.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder looks like Jack. It looks like a pink octopus stuck to my kitchen ceiling. There are no distinguishing physical characteristics that make him markedly different from any other 6 year old boy. What makes him different is his sheer will to oppose. It’s an iron will.

He is short in stature and has trouble gaining weight, but that’s why his pediatrician referred us to the endocrine specialist. They also referred us to the genetic specialist. An intervention specialist referred us to the psychiatric doctor who, in turn, referred us to the Autism clinic as well as the neuro-developmental specialist. So many specialists, so many referrals, so few answers.

In an effort to neutralize ADHD, which one specialist diagnosed while another did not, he was prescribed an amphetamine. He was also prescribed a low dose of an adult blood pressure medication to help with his outbursts and anger. The jury is still out on whether they work.

Symptoms? Behaviors? Yes.

Anger, aggression, irritability, inability to focus or sit still, uncooperative, defiant, hostile toward authority, restlessness, impulsivity, obsessiveness, compulsions…to name a few.

All of the symptoms present at one time or another; sometimes in tandem. Hostility phases out, but obsessiveness takes its place. If you have the unique experience of sitting down with a medical professional and trying to explain behaviors or to bubble in the referral paperwork next to “Always, Often, Sometimes, Never”, you can understand the difficulty and frustration.

It’s not easy to verbalize what goes on at home because I’m often flying by the seat of my pants when we’re in the midst of a full-blown, psychedelic tantrum. All I know for sure is that I tried every last single solitary bit of discipline I could, and none of it works. None. Of. It.

That much, at least, convinces me this is a disorder (or one of several) and it’s somewhat out of my control.

What drove us to seek professional help was kindergarten.

Jack took great joy in poking, hitting, pinching, swearing, blurting out words, making disruptive noises, taking things and hiding them, taking things and breaking them, tearing books, etching desks, lying about behavior, refusing to do work, cutting things into itty bitty pieces, throwing food and name-calling. I’m sure there was more, but that’s all I’m aware of. In his first year of school, he went to the principal’s office three times (again, that I’m aware of).

We tried two different counselors. He refused to speak. He didn’t utter one peep in six visits.

Enter: the intervention specialist and psychiatric referral.

If I thought I was the only mom whose child exhibited these kinds of behaviors, I would shut up and chalk it up to bad parenting. But, I know that I’m not the only mom. Of course kids defy their parents. It’s what they do, but this is a whole different animal.

When I tell Jack not to do something, I’ve learned the hard way that thing is precisely what he’ll do, and he’ll do it as he looks me right in the eye. That’s oppositional defiance.

“Jack, I”ll give you the ‘squishy’, but just keep it off of the ceiling or you’ll lose it for good.” He gave me eye contact, a grin and an immediate shot straight to the ceiling.

I leave it there because it makes me smile when he’s at his dad’s. It’s so Jack.

The more angry I am, the happier he gets. Ignoring it won’t work either. Ignoring his behavior only leads to repetition of it to get my attention. Most of the time, I get the added bonus of shrill noises to accompany the repetition. The more irritating the noise, the better.

Time-outs beg for destruction and more noise. Anything he can possibly pound on or break while he’s sitting there is fair game. The time I tried spanking, when I was at the tail end of my rope, he responded by laughing and asking me to do it again because it was “fun”.

There was a time I literally threw my hands up in surrender. My white flag was flying and I actually laughed. And you know what? He laughed too. And he stopped.

Against all the medical advice and books by people whose names have an alphabet after them, I literally just gave in and let it go. And it stopped. Mind you, it didn’t stop forever, but once I quit trying so hard to push back, so did Jack.

I put all of the charts, stickers, redirection, loss of privileges to the side. For the time-being. I turned to plain and simple reasoning. No threat I ever made or punishment I enforced ever got his attention anyway. What gets his attention is my attention to him.

All I do is take the time to tell him exactly what he did and ask why. Most of the time he doesn’t have a reason and I believe that’s truly the case.

He doesn’t know why he does what he does. But if he knows I’m aware and I’m paying attention, he becomes eager to please and the negative behavior becomes almost non existent.

This is only what worked for me when nothing else worked. In fact, it didn’t work at all until Jack was able and willing to listen to me without interrupting or blowing up. And this probably won’t work forever. That’s the beauty of ODD/ADHD/OCD. It keeps you on your toes.

All these acronyms are taking the place of my little boy. ODD, ADHD, OCD. They’re easy to get wrapped up in and to forget that what I have at the end of every outburst is still my Jack. Whatever else may be associated with him in the way of a disorder, he’s still my Jack.

What he is isn’t symptoms. Those are secondary. What he is, is kind, lovable, thoughtful, imaginative, eager, creative, funny, innovative.

What he’s diagnosed with, we’ll work through.

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