Stay at Home Mummá: Oppositional

Wednesday 2nd November 2016

Opposition Defiant Disorder…or How Toddler Rebellion has Become a Mental Illness

The so-called “condition” for why a toddler might choose to resist conformity has been labeled by the psychiatric profession as “oppositional defiant disorder”. This upsets me immensely.

But first a little background. Little ones diagnosed with ODD, by definition, are doing nothing illegal (illegal behaviors are a symptom of another mental illness called conduct disorder). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as “a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.” While ODD-diagnosed young ones are obnoxious with adults they don’t respect, these kids can be a delight with adults they do respect; yet many of them are medicated with psychotropic drugs.

Two ways of subduing defiance are to criminalize it and to pathologize it, and U.S. history is replete with examples of both. In the same era that John Adams’ Sedition Act criminalized criticism of U.S. governmental policy, Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of American psychiatry, pathologized anti-authoritarianism. Rush diagnosed those rebelling against a centralized federal authority as having an “excess of the passion for liberty” that “constituted a form of insanity.” He labeled this illness “anarchia”.

Throughout American history, resistance to authority has been diseased. In an 1851 article in the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, Louisiana physician Samuel Cartwright reported his discovery of “drapetomania”, the disease that caused slaves to flee captivity. Cartwright also reported his discovery of “dysaesthesia aethiopis,” the disease that caused slaves to pay insufficient attention to the master’s needs. Was this the beginnings of ODD?

I firmly believe that kidlets, just like this one below, are learning who they are, what they can do, what are boundaries and have zero congnition of abstract concepts such as rebellion or being oppositional. All they are doing is following their desire: to play more when Mumma says ‘stop’; to not get dressed in jeans when Mumma says so (cause they prefer being in the nude!); for hitting Mumma when bathtime cuts into playtime. That type of thing.

I will be nurturing Kingsley’s ever growing curiosity and guiding his rational thinking ability with my personal brand of leadership, loving, and own behaviour. I certainly won’t be sending him to the therapist’s chair just for shifty, bratty, moody defiance. If that were the case most of my contemporaries would have been cast into asylums by their own parents or worse, medicated into a dull, careless existence.

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