“Mom, I heard a story about a kid who gets angry like me…and he killed someone. Am I going to hurt someone someday?”
These words echo in my mind every…single…day. I remember asking Cameron’s preschool teacher if he ever acted up in class. She told me, “never.” I went as far as to explain the level of temper tantrums he displayed at home and she replied, “I feel like you’re describing another kid, not Cameron.” And over the years as his resistant, defiant behaviors progressed, I asked his teachers the same questions only to hear the same thing his preschool teacher informed me: “He never acts this way in class.” In fact, up until junior high, his teachers often described him as the most thoughtful, caring kid in his class, always aiming to please. The more it was reinforced, the more of a failure I felt as a parent. But junior high heightened his defiance and he became more and more violent, with outbursts that were unpredictable and downright frightening.
It’s taken a long time for me to talk about this, even with my closest friends and relatives, because I always felt like it was my fault. Hell, I still do. But when someone tells you he displays most of the signs of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, there is some comfort in knowing that you are no longer alone. And quite frankly, who wants to talk about their not-so-normal kid? I mean we spend so much time highlighting their perfections, we certainly don’t want to discuss what’s “wrong” with them.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., as a recurrent pattern of developmentally inappropriate, negativistic, defiant, and disobedient behavior toward authority figures. This behavior often appears in the preschool years, but initially it can be difficult to distinguish from developmentally appropriate, albeit troublesome, behavior. Children who develop a stable pattern of oppositional behavior during their preschool years are likely to go on to have oppositional defiant disorder during their elementary school years. Children with oppositional defiant disorder have substantially strained relationships with their parents, teachers, and peers, and have high rates of coexisting conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and mood disorders. Children with oppositional defiant disorder are at greater risk of developing conduct disorder and antisocial personality disorder during adulthood.
Say what? My son could have an antisocial personality disorder now? Not in MY house. Not in MY perfect world [insert sarcasm]. Today, I searched ODD on Facebook, just to see what other parents might be saying about their kids, and this is the post I found:
It was this that compelled me to tell our story. If this person only knew what life is like in my household, day in and day out, she might think twice before spewing from her inexperienced, judgmental mouth. Because believe me, I get it, but this goes far beyond having a “brat” for a child. When you discipline a child with ODD, often they respond with anger, hostility, and violence.
Let me tell you a little bit about my Cameron. Cameron is 12 years old, and the middle child among an older brother of five years and a younger brother of 2 years. He has literally been difficult since birth. As a newborn, he had jaundice and was hospitalized after a few days old. He had the worst case of colic I had ever heard or witnessed that I can’t believe I risked having a 3rd child. If you’ve ever experienced colic, you can truly relate to some instances of shaking baby syndrome [yeah I said it]. As a toddler, Cameron had PFAPA (periodic fevers with aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis, and adenitis) which consisted of very high fevers every 2-3 weeks, on and off like clockwork, for several years. And of course during this time we struggled with the “terrible twos” which came to be “terrible toddler-hood” and still continues to this day. But now I’m dealing with a hormonal 12-year-old who has transitioned to junior high and trying to find his place in this world–oh and throw a divorce in the middle of that with a change in schools.
One of the worst “episodes” that comes to mind happened over the Christmas Holiday when my nephew was over. When Cameron and Ryan (his younger brother) have another person to play with, three is definitely a crowd and if Cameron feels left out, you better watch out. I saw the situation escalating when Ryan and my nephew decided to play in another room. Cameron became angry in a flash and charged into the room. I immediately intervened and told the boys to shut the door and lock it while I tried to calm Cameron down. I physically had to restrain Cameron as he attempted to break the door down. He wasn’t going to stop until he got inside that room and I fear what he would’ve done had he actually gotten in. For 20 minutes I had to hold Cameron on the ground while he tried to break free, all while trying to destroy his surroundings. Twenty minutes of fighting was exhausting for both of us and we both started to weaken. Well, right when he felt my weakness he gave it one last attempt to break free and in the process busted my lip open.
He had won…Physically and emotionally, he had broken me. I let go and ran to the bathroom hysterical. And when he knew he had hurt me, he immediately broke of his anger and came to my side, apologetic, tearful, and broken as well. He had hurt the one person that he trusts the most and I could tell, in that moment, he was just as devastated as me. Seeing this behavior and knowing the person who “loses it,” you can see that he loses control, becoming irrational. That’s the only way I can explain it. It doesn’t make it okay, and it doesn’t excuse any of his behavior, but just like any psychological disorder something else takes over and controls him.
This is only the beginning of many posts I plan to share as we struggle with this illness. It is a struggle every single day as I also have to try to explain to my other two children that their brother is “different.” I’m only now learning how to manage these situations and what to teach my other children about it without anyone feeling preferentially treated so I don’t have the answers. I only hope that if anyone who is experiencing a child with these behaviors and is feeling helpless, believe me, I feel helpless most days and spend many in my bedroom completely overwhelmed on the floor in tears. But now that I know there is help, I have hope.