Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Biology

Is the cause of Oppositional Defiant Disorder biological?

There appears to be no single cause that produces Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD); however, researchers do agree that there is a strong genetic and biological influence involved.

Research suggests that behavioral problems in ODD kids may occur as the result of defects in - or injuries to - the brain.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is associated with abnormal amounts of neurotransmitters (i.e., chemicals that enhance communication among neurons in the brain). If these chemicals are out of balance or not working properly, messages may not make it through the brain correctly, leading to symptoms of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and other mental illnesses.

Other biological factors found in those diagnosed with Oppositional Defiant Disorder is (1) a difficult temperament, (2) above normal levels of testosterone, and (3) low physiological arousal (i.e., under-arousal) in response to stimulation.

Several theories have tried to explain why under-arousal may be associated with increased behavior problems. Some researchers suggest that under-arousal results in sensation-seeking and perhaps in disruptive behaviors to maintain optimal arousal. Others have suggested that the under-arousal results in an under-reaction of guilt or anxiety, which in turn would inhibit these behaviors in typically developed children. A third theory suggests that both under-arousal and aggressive behaviors are results of deficiencies in the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, limiting the child’s reasoning, foresight, and ability to learn from experience.

Many kids and adolescents with ODD also have other mental illnesses (e.g., ADHD, learning disorders, depression, anxiety disorder), which may contribute to their behavior problems.

Parenting Kids with ODD: The Do's and Don'ts

The best way to treat a youngster with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) involves behavior management techniques, using a consistent approach to discipline, and following through with positive reinforcement of appropriate behaviors.

Here are the Do’s and Don’ts:


1. Do apply established consequences immediately, fairly and consistently. Be consistent and set down specific rules, because changing the rules mid-stream can be confusing to the ODD youngster. Be sure that BOTH parents are on-board with the same rules.

2. Do explain why you are disciplining the ODD youngster. Kids need not only to understand what they did wrong – but why it was wrong and what they should have done right. This also needs to be conveyed to them in a way that they will grasp. This allows the youngster to grow and not just stop the immediate behavior that is in front of you.

3. Do limit the time ODD kids can watch television, play video games, and listen to music. Sticking to these rules allows time for the kids to think on their own and to use their creativity.

==> Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder

4. Do think about how the consequence will affect you and the rest of the family. If you have a youngster who likes to control you or others in the family, choose consequences carefully. Be sure that the consequence ONLY affects the youngster who misbehaved and not anyone else. Do not say, "We are not going until you clean your room." 

If you are going somewhere he wants to go, this threat may work. If he does not want to go, you have just given the youngster a lot of power. No one can go until the room is clean. You are giving this youngster control over the entire family! What do you do with a youngster who is not permitted to go somewhere with the rest of the family? Get a baby-sitter and then go and have a good time. Your youngster will learn that his misbehavior will not prevent the family from having fun.


1. Don’t allow electronics to become a babysitter for your ODD youngster. Moms and dads often wonder how to take TV privileges from one youngster. If they have to shut off the TV, the other kids will be punished too. That's true. Do not shut the TV off because one youngster is restricted. That punishes everyone. Watch TV as usual. 

The youngster who is being disciplined should go in another room WITHOUT TV or games. If no one can watch TV because he/she cannot watch TV, you are giving your youngster control over the entire family. Who is being punished?

2. Don’t play "Let’s Make a Deal" with the ODD youngster, "If you clean your room, you can go to the movies tonight." Too many moms and dads use this approach to get the youngster to do something, and bargaining becomes a way of life. The mother or father is constantly caught in a struggle to make the deal. Instead, enforce predetermined consequences and apply intermittent reinforcement for good behavior. 

A reinforcer is anything that the youngster likes or desires. Examples of reinforcers can include praise, spending quality time together, or going to a movie to name a few. Once you have issued a rule or instruction, you shouldn’t back down. The primary rule is that the youngster must obey the parent!

3. Don't allow the youngster to manipulate you. Kids with ODD are very cunning at getting their own way.

==> Parenting Children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder


Thank you very very much! My 3.5 yr old son wants to control me and his elder brother as well. Nowadays he becomes too much obstinate several times. Even though he is not vindictive and he is quite good a boy when he is not angry , I am afraid if his illogical anger or his intention to find out some reasons to be angry is a sign of O D D anyway!