Testing Tough Kids
A diagnosis frequently made for students who cause behavioural problems is Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD). ODD is characterized by constant disobedience and hostility towards authority. This diagnosis is a fair description of those kids who continually oppose and defy teacher instructions. In a previous Newsletter I discussed the importance of trust and the lack of trust is at the heart of ODD. This condition is the gold star expression of loss of trust. Most information about this condition discusses its causes and manifestations; but the question rarely asked is why do they choose to act in a way that almost guarantees a negative consequence. What is it about that drive to defy when the cost can be so punishing?
I have taught many such children and have felt helpless in the face of this self-destructive behaviour. Even if you give them the choice to change their behaviour; they understand the consequences of continuing that behaviours and you know they really don't want those results; they will still ‘choose' to act in that defiant manner. My understanding is that the behaviour is an inability of trust. The fact is they believe that if they follow your direction, they are conceding to you power over them and in their history trusting someone exposes them to abuse and/or neglect.
This refusal to ‘do’ as required has huge ramifications for teachers who have one or two such characters in their class. Statistics from the US estimate that about 10% of all children develop ODD but these statistics may well be exaggerated however, there is general agreement that at least 2% of children will reach the threshold of ODD diagnosis.
Another point to be considered is the ‘severity’ of the expression of defiance; this can range from mild, general reluctance to extreme levels of defiance. There is another factor that reflects the correlation between socioeconomic dimensions of a community and the frequency of the expression of ODD.
So as a teacher you had better prepare yourself for such students. Even in the day-to-day evaluation of students, learning relies on students ‘being told' how to respond to situations presented to them; such a regimented approach to ‘success' for assessing the ODD student makes this way impossible. Because of their defiant attitude they almost always are obliged to refuse to comply.
This refusal is because:
- For the ODD student, the very presence of an authoritive direction means the student is driven to say no! Compliance means giving up their ‘safety.’
- To really try to do the test to the best of their ability exposes them to the risk of failure. These children will avoid taking chances because of their innate vulnerability. These kids will inevitably come from a position of toxic shame (see Newsletter 19) and the drive to defy is enhanced by the belief that to be good you need to be perfect. These kids are already refusing to complete lesson tasks so they know they will fail.
As I pointed out at the beginning of this Newsletter, these ODD children will refuse to follow a direction even if they understand any negative consequence of their disobedience and the loss of something they may like if they conformed. This dilemma, of being dammed if they did and dammed if they didn't, was exemplified in a test given to a young delinquent in a detention centre. He refused to answer any question on the exam paper. When it was returned, he had received an ‘E’; he genuinely thought the ‘E' stood for excellent and you could see the delight he was experiencing. It was easy to find this amusing but it was so heart-breaking when you understood what this meant.
In the first instance, this boy was so intellectually delayed he had no idea that consequences were related to his actions. But why would he think he was responsible for a result that was linked to his efforts? Life was done to him and right now life had given him an ‘E'! The second distressing message was the delight he showed when he thought he had passed. His reaction confirmed was that he really would like to be such a success.
Helping these children is the core of our Consultancy. Providing this 'help' is a challenging undertaking but one worthwhile. There is no proven way of dealing with these kids or for that matter all those kids who are going to ‘fail' in a punitive system that wants to sort the good from the bad. All I know is that if you can build enough trust in these kids, so they do want to participate in school you will have past the teacher's test – with a great big ‘E'!