Why I don’t Diagnose Oppositional Defiant Disorder (Part 3 of 4)

by James Wiley, MD, FAAP — @adddoc

As we continue our series on symptoms and disorders that resemble ODD, another factor that can affect a child’s behavior is having a learning disability of any kind. 

Dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia all make school days long and arduous for kids.  Few schools are equipped with the expertise and resources to meet the needs of kids with learning differences, much less those with learning disabilities. Kids who have trouble with receptive or expressive language often have trouble asking for help!  Kids with LD often feel different and unfortunately often even think of themselves as “stupid”.  Some of these kids will withdraw or shut down, resulting them in getting labeled as “lazy”.  Some will become class clowns and be labeled “disruptive” (and therefore ADHD, whether they have ADHD or not) and some will get angry and oppositional!  They won’t do certain things because they can’t or it’s just too hard for them.  All kids would rather be labeled as having bad behavior than labeled “dumb” or “stupid”.   And, no it doesn’t make sense!  But the grownups contribute to this when we single these kids out and blame them for their disability when really it is our inability (or unwillingness) to advocate and get them the resources and accommodations that they need to realize their gifts and potential.  Adding the label of ODD to these kids is an injustice. I have a 14 year old patient who is in 7th grade but reads on a third grade level.  His family was on the verge of being called to truancy court because of the number of days he missed school.  He was there at school, but constantly in some form of exclusion, usually in school suspension for ‘willful disobedience’ for failing to do his work. An example-he wouldn’t attempt Accelerated Reader tests.  In other words, at age 14 he refused to check out a 3rd grade book in front of his 12 year old classmates.  What 14 year old WOULD do that?  And he was being excluded and punished in spite of having an IEP in place that should have better addressed his LD and considered his behavioral response part of it.

As is the common theme in this series, finding the root of the behavior is key to understanding why the oppositional tendencies exist. Communicating with your child’s teacher and your doctor are integral in diagnosing a learning disability.