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Can Trauma Cause Oppositional Defiant Disorder & Can A Child Grow Out Of It?

Oppositional defiant disorder or ODD is a disorder often found in children under the age of 9-10. Symptoms include an angry and irritable mood with a teasing temper and showing frustration; quarrel-loving or provocative behavior where the child tends to quarrel with authoritative people and adults and has a tendency of breaking rules.(1)

Can Trauma Cause Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

Children with a history of trauma demonstrate oppositional defiant disorder behavior greater than children without trauma. This is most likely the result of the negative physiological effects of trauma on the underlying regulatory system, which weakens the child’s ability to organize and process sensory inputs.

Changes in the body’s primary stress response system prevent the regulation of sensory distortions and prevent children from regulating their own emotions and behaviors. Painful experiences increase the stress of the pressures, and even the slight pressures that healthy individuals can deal with. For example, simple problem solving becomes difficult, causing anger and confusion in a child “simply who doesn’t know what to do”, which ultimately leads to anger, aggression, and other obstacles such as resistance.

Under stress, the child’s analytical ability to trauma is limited and behavioral disturbance and or anger arises. They did not gradually move from the hegemony of the right hemisphere (sensations and feelings) to the hegemony of the left hemisphere (language, thinking, problem-solving), which led to the integration of neural communication between the two hemispheres. The right brain usually lacks a “thought” or plan before taking any action.

Interestingly, many of the symptoms and reactions that occur in oppositional defiant disorder are similar to those of children after trauma. Every year, 800,000 children are traumatized by abuse and neglect alone. Radical changes consistent with oppositional defiant disorder were observed in 20% of these children after traumatic events. (3)

Can A Child Grow Out Of Oppositional Defiant Disorder?

The first treatment option is the family intervention, which trains parents on how to treat their children. For example, the parents should not pay attention to the child’s undesired behavior but praise and strengthen it when he or she shows good conduct and act properly. When a parent scolds a child and gives corporal punishment, the child becomes aggressive. Increasing parent-child positive interactions, rather than such treatment, may improve the prognosis of defiant behavior.

For children with oppositional defiant disorder, personal psychotherapy using role-play may be effective. Through treatment, the child can learn how to gain a sense of accomplishment and control over relationships with family and peers.(3)(4)

The Behavioral Pattern

This behavioral pattern can be divided into three categories. In most cases, symptoms usually occur only at home and may not be so at school or elsewhere. However, in more severe cases, symptoms can be seen in several situations (such as home and school).

To some extent, such defiant behavior against adults is also found in children through routine development. However, meeting certain requirements may result in a diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder. First, the child must show at least 4 cycles of symptoms within 6 months. Second, the duration and frequency of symptoms should exceed those which are standard for the child’s age and gender. For example, it is not unusual for a preschool child to have a tantrum about once a week. However, if you have tantrums almost every day, or the child is breaking things in addition to tantrums, and has other symptoms, the child may be suffering from oppositional defiant disorder.

Children with this disability do not consider themselves rebellious and provocative. Rather, they feel that the unreasonable demands and circumstances around the child are making him or her angry or defiant. As a result, they may be rejected by their peers and become isolated, or they may not be able to get help from others.(1)(2)

Similarity With Other Behavioral Disorder

Oppositional defiant disorder has common symptoms with other behavioral disorders, which include aggression towards others, destruction of property, theft, and fraud. However, these behavioral disorders do not include the anger and irritability found in oppositional defiant disorder.

Different mental, social, and biological causes may lead to oppositional defiant disorder in children. Oppositional defiant disorder tends to occur in families with a history of hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit, substance use disorder or mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.(2)


  1. Kimonis ER, Frick PJ, McMahon RJ. Conduct and oppositional defiant disorders. 2014.
  2. Noordermeer SD, Luman M, Oosterlaan J. A systematic review and meta-analysis of neuroimaging in oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and conduct disorder (CD) taking attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) into account. Neuropsychology review. 2016;26(1):44-72.
  3. Rowe R, Costello EJ, Angold A, Copeland WE, Maughan B. Developmental pathways in oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. Journal of abnormal psychology. 2010;119(4):726.
  4. Harvey EA, Breaux RP, Lugo-Candelas CI. Early development of comorbidity between symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). Journal of abnormal psychology. 2016;125(2):154.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:March 4, 2020

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