Magazine article Insight on the News

The Tantrum Tantra

Magazine article Insight on the News

The Tantrum Tantra

Article excerpt

Beleaguered parents with `explosive' children are faced with an old argument: Is nature or nurture the cause of their kids' violent behavior? Psychiatrists say ... both.

On the surface, ODD--Oppositional Defiant Disorder--sounds like another acronym from the "therapeutic society," another attempt to reclassify misbehavior as a disease. But long-suffering parents say they know instinctively that something is different about their child.

"The `terrible twos' were just that--terrible," says Tammie Maroney, of Bozeman, Mont. "The rages and tantrums grew worse as he got older, and nothing we did helped.... He became destructive, physically violent, would run off and laugh at us for trying to catch him. He set my kitchen table on fire. He started stealing toys from friends and neighbors. No punishment or consequences helped."

The Maroneys are not an extreme case, according to experts. Just about every instance of ODD is "like living with a porcupine," says Sam Kennedy, a licensed counselor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and a staff member at Focus on the Family, a national pro-family group. "Many people don't handle high levels of stress well. They come at the kid the same way the kid started out, and me child starts to learn the world isn't a friendly place, and if anyone is going to take care of him, he'll do it. And most of the time, he's doing it like an alley cat."

The American Psychiatric Association estimates that about 16 percent of children in the United States have ODD, but diagnosing it can be tricky because in many cases it's linked with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder or other learning disorders. It first appeared as an official diagnosis in 1980, when the psychiatric association released its third Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the so-called bible of American psychiatry.

Part of the problem of diagnosing ODD: There is no objective test for it. "When you're diagnosing autism or schizophrenia, you're on safer ground because you're only talking about the kid and not the family," says Lawrence Diller, a behavioral pediatrician in Walnut Creek, Calif. "But ODD? It's a construct--and not a very good one"

Complicating matters, ODD children often act like angels and are highly intelligent, a circumstance that heightens the frustration of parents blamed by schools, courts and neighbors for their kids' misbehavior. …

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