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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 | , , , , , , ,


  1. Just dropping by.Btw, you website have great content!

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    Comment by Jaren | March 3, 2009 | Reply

  2. I am tutoring a student that is behaviorally disordered and qualified for help in his public school in Texas. We were wondering, the parents and I, that there might be special skills of handling behaviorial issues for these youngsters in the public schools other than “just Behavioral”. thanks, joe pruett


    Comment by joseph c pruett | December 15, 2009 | Reply

  3. This is good info., but if a student meets the criteria under the category of emotional disabled, even if they have a diagnosis of C.D. or O.D.D., can’t they still qualify for SpEd? Does the diagnosis really exempt them? If that is the case, would it benefit parents to not tell the school about an outside diagnosis such as O.D.D. if the parent is hoping to get the child placed in a self-contained behavioral setting?
    I am a first year school psych. and dealing with a student with O.D.D. (also diagnosed ADHD) so she is getting help under OHI. Just wondering what you think.


    Comment by kyle | January 4, 2010 | Reply

    • Kyle: As I said in the post, wording does make a difference. If a child met the qualifications under a category of emotional disturbance, and that diagnosis and description was addressed in the IEP, I don’t see a problem, even if there was a co-existing behavioral diagnosis of some sort. This would be the case more in the ODD-type youngster than the conduct disordered one because of the more serious characterlogical issues of Conduct Disorder.


      Comment by docspeak | January 4, 2010 | Reply

  4. This resonated with me because I was kicked out of school in 6th grade and put on an IEP with the label of ED with ODD. But while reading this it is clear that my ADHD likely was a comorbid factor that helped me with my crazy impulse control. But at that time I don’t think ADHD could get you Special Ed services, so I was in turn put on the ED track.

    At any rate, thanks for the post.


    Comment by beckett haight | December 26, 2017 | Reply

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