Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Oppositional Defiant Disorder: A Primer on the Boy

There’s a reason I give out a handout on ODD to all of my son’s new teachers.  If I could, I’d put a disclaimer sticker on his forehead: Ask my mom about my ODD before engaging in an argument with me.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder is tricky, because to everyone else these kids seem like typical kids.  In reality, though, there’s a glitch in the way their brains work.  Here’s a sampling of the ODD symptoms with which we are blessed:

    Excessive arguing with adults
    Often questioning rules
    Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
    Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
    Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
    Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others

When you find yourself in a position of authority with this kid, you will be held to a higher standard of adult conduct.  The old because I said so and I’m a grown up bit?  That dog won’t hunt, not with our boy. 

You will have to earn his respect.  You will have to show him it is worth his time to listen to you.  You might say this is complete malarkey, and a child must respect his elders, and I wouldn’t disagree with you.  However, the boy is what he is, and if you lose credibility with him… 

Well, let me just share a little story.

As I’ve mentioned before, we’re active in local community theater.  We had a show this past weekend. 

In this particular show, the boy was working backstage crew rather than acting.  Part of his job was to fetch props from a prop table.  The prop table happened to be right outside the backstage dressing area. 

When your cast consists mostly of children, the best way to avoid uncomfortable situations is to have cast members wear a layer of clothing that they never take off.  A tank and running shorts, etc, stays on at all times, and costume changes can be done anywhere, no modesty concerns necessary.  Nobody gets naked backstage.  It’s a rule. 

Imagine the boy’s surprise, then, when a backstage mom shooed him away from the prop table.  She told him that girls were changing and he was not to come within 6 feet of the dressing room, period. 

He tried to explain he was getting props.

She cut him off.  I don’t care what you’re doing, you can’t be back here. 

He argued some more, trying to explain that the girls were all dressed, and he wasn’t going to see anything he shouldn’t see. 

She wouldn’t hear any of his protestations or attempts at explanation; she didn’t care what he was trying to tell her.  She cut him off and told him to go away. 

I wasn’t there, but I can describe with some confidence what happened inside my son’s head at that point:

This lady is an idiot.  She doesn’t know anything.  The girls have clothes on when they’re changing, what am I going to see?  Clearly, she’s never done this before.  She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  Since she doesn’t know what she’s talking about, I don’t need to listen to her.  Nothing she says to me from this point forward is relevant.  I will carry on with my tasks as if she isn’t there. 

This is not so much a thought process; rather, it is an instantaneous judgment call that happens, a switch that flips. 

I’ve witnessed it more times than I can count with both the boy and his father.  First, the brows raise slightly in an Is this person serious? expression they find difficult to conceal.  Then, there’s the moment when the switch flips: the face goes slack, the eyes lose interest, and the body gives off an impatient I don’t have time for this idiot vibe that is unmistakable. 

The boy carried on with his instructions, continuing to try to retrieve props from the table and continuing to get chastised by that particular backstage mom. 

He never said anything to me about it.  It was a non-issue, because she was irrelevant. 

I wasn't privy to the backstage drama (pun intended), because I was up in the control room.  I was in charge of tech, though, so I did have to go backstage for director’s notes.  On one trip backstage, a mom I only knew in passing stopped me and said, Are you Amanda?

Yes, why?

Then you’re Cole’s mom?

[sigh] Yes, that’s me.  What did he do?

Well, I was trying to tell him to stop [doing something annoying] and he said to me: Why don’t you just go back over there and do YOUR job?

Oh gosh, I’m sorry.  Okay, thank you, I’ll talk to him.

It’s not a big deal, I just would hope someone would tell me if my kid was talking to adults that way.

Yes, of course, thank you.  I’ll take care of it. 

I found the boy, chewed on him for being disrespectful, and when he protested that she was rude first, I told him that that didn't matter.  I reminded him that most of society is of the opinion that children should respect their elders regardless of whether or not they deserve it, and I made him swallow his pride and indignation, find her, and apologize. 

Later that night, I learned about the earlier difficulties.  He described to me what had been going on.  I had my light bulb moment: Well, that’s why he was rude!  She wasn’t someone he felt was worthy of his attention.  

The next day, I found a stage manager, explained the struggle he’d been having with the backstage mom, and asked them to please inform this woman that the girls never undress backstage, making her concerns unfounded. 

It was my hope that she would see the error of her ways and apologize to him for reprimanding him unnecessarily (after all, he did the right thing and apologized to her, right?).  In doing so, she would regain the respect from him she had previously lost, and there would be no further issues. 

The stage manager came back to me later and reported the following:  I talked to the backstage mom.  The prop table wasn’t the problem.  The problem was that he was rude to her and told her to go away and worry about her own job.  It didn’t have anything to do with him being back by the dressing rooms. 

Sweet baby Jesus.  Please wait here while I go find a wall on which to bang my head.  Of course that's what it was about, was nobody listening?? 

Looking back on the situation, it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things.  It does inspire me to reflect on how we adults treat these children that are just trying to learn how to be adults, too, one day soon. 

I made him apologize because it was the “right” thing for me to do as an adult. His comment to her was wrong.  Was it wrong, though, for him to want to be respected enough to be heard in the first place?  

What was the “right thing” for her to do as an adult?  Is it right for us to disregard children when they are trying to communicate with us because we’ve already decided that we know more than them?  Is it okay to make children feel like they don’t have a right to be heard?  

When you're faced with an adult that is making wrong choices in their interactions with your children, is it right to ask your children to suck it up and get over it because that's the way the world works, or is it your job to tell another adult when they're being an asshole?  

Clearly, I have no answers here, only questions.  Please, discuss...