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Why ODD Doesn’t Qualify for Special Ed

WHY DOESN’T MY CHILD QUALIFY? This mother put into her question the frustration experienced by a lot of parents:
My ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) child’s behavior is causing her to fail in school, yet I was told she does NOT qualify for Special Education assistance. How can this be?

Strict application of Special Education guidelines specify that only emotionally disabled youngsters can be eligible for placement and services in Special Education. Youngsters with behavioral disorders (and ODD is considered a behavioral disorder) technically do not qualify for these services.

Frankly, this loophole is as loose or as tight as one wants to make it. There might be a number of options, but these two are the primary ones:

1. Experts agree that ODD rarely occurs by itself; it’s generally accompanied by conditions like low frustration tolerance, poor impulse control and even depression. Since depression or issues with impulse control (both emotional conditions) may not be addressed at all in the acting out youngster, the child could be denied those services she could qualify for easily. Only a good assessment can identify and quantify emotionality for certain. Although there appears to be little difference between diagnosis of the same child as “ODD with features of depression” or “Depression with features of oppositionality and defiance” one will qualify the child for Special Education assistance, while the other won’t. Wording makes a difference.

2. Current guidelines stipulate that a student failing in school should receive intervention that starts in the classroom and, if necessary, moves up in “tiers,” a hierarchy sometimes called the Pyramid of Intervention. This intervention is documented in a file that can be reviewed. Good, effective intervention often addresses the behavior and the issues with no need for a Special Education referral at all.

James Sutton, Psychologist

February 20, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Behavior As An Attempt to “Fix” Problems

BEHAVIOR AS AN ATTEMPT TO “FIX” PROBLEMS:  The behaviors of young people, what they DO, can be one of the best indicators of what’s going on inside of them. More often that we realize, their behaviors are an attempt to “fix” issues and situations in their lives.  Reading this behavior is not especially difficult, but it takes a little practice.

A boy is fearful his parents will divorce. How does he stop them? I’ve seen youngsters find their way into so much trouble at school their parents had to come to together to deal with it.

Now that’s an interesting dynamic. As long as the boy is in trouble, Mom and Dad are actually communicating and working together on something involving their son. And, as long as they are working together, they are together. With that kind of payoff, how do you propose to stop the lad’s behavior?

Here’s another example. I had the opportunity some time back to work with a high-school girl from a single-parent family. (Her mother had died of pancreatic cancer, one enormous and unaddressed source of the girl’s depression and anger.) Dad work had him on the road all the time. The girl felt she essentially had lost both of her parents.

She found an effective way to get her father off the road. She began failing in school. It worked! Dad had countless meetings with her teachers, and he begged her to bring up her grades. Clearly capable of passing, she failed the ninth grade. In fact, since Dad was a slow learner, she failed it three times.

In both of these examples the youngsters considered the consequences of their behavior preferable to letting the problem continue. As obvious as these two examples appear, they were not obvious to the folks in the middle of them. Effective intervention, therefore, should recognize the problem the behavior is trying to “fix,” then address both it and the behavior.


James Sutton, Psychologist


   (You’ll find more great ideas for parents in Dr. Sutton’s book, What Parents Need to Know About ODD(Friendly Oaks Publications, 2007). Click on the title for more information and to order. This great resource also is available in ebook (pdf) format at a reduced cost. For specifics on the ebook and for the option of immediate download, CLICK HERE.)

February 9, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments