from educational Horizons Spring 1996

"Oppositional Disorder"
©1999 Gary K. Clabaugh

edited 9/2/11
See, also, Poisoning Educational Practice

Once upon a time parents who lacked the courage and/or interest necessary to set limits and impose responsibilities were thought to produce lamed and defiled children. "Spoiled brats" was the common lexicon. Happily, this benighted notion no longer enjoys currency. We now know that a child's upbringing may really have little to do with "brattiness." Children behaving like "spoiled brats" are often really suffering from an illness known as oppositional disorder.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders, oppositional disorder's symptoms include:

(1) violations of minor rules
(2) temper tantrums
(3) argumentativeness
(4) provocative behavior
(5) stubbornness

No wonder children suffering from the heartbreak of oppositional disorder historically have been thought of as brats. Insidiously, adopting a perfect cover, the malady mimics brattiness with uncanny verisimilitude. That probably is how it escaped detection until the late 20th Century. Today, however, there is a growing awareness of the disorder's existence and, of equal importance, increasing appreciation of its insidious subtlety. Consequently, parents who used to "cure" Johnny by sending him to bed without supper, are now beginning to realize that he might instead need:
clinical diagnosis via psychological testing and assessment

chart notes, a case history, test reports, and probably

psychotherapy and/or behavior therapy possibly combined with

psychopharmacological treatment using drugs like:

Ritilin, Xanax, Librium, Klonopin, Tranxene, Valium, Dalmane, Paxipam, Ativan, Serax, Centrax, Doral, Restoril, Halcion, Thorazine, Vesprin, Mellaril, Serentil, Tindal, Prolixin, Trilafon, Stelazine, Taractan, Navane, Loxitane or Haldol.

How can a trip to the woodshed compete with this? Is "grounding" even in the same league? I don't even have to ask.

I report the discovery of oppositional syndrome with considerable mortification, recalling any number of times I may have misconceived my own children's symptoms for budding brattiness. I recall with chagrin, for instance, the time I asked my adolescent son to take out the trash. He griped, "Why should I do that?" and I thoughtlessly responded "Because I'll kick your butt if you don't!" He appraised my response, then replied, "That's a good reason!" and took out the trash. At the time I thought I was "raising up a child in the way he should go." Now I recognize that he probably required treatment, not threats.

The young man in question is now a year out of college and making his own way in the world. Still, I wonder. Was his choice of a philosophy major in college symptomatic of untreated oppositional disorder? Was that why he never joined the Young Republican Club, hated Pat Boone and refused to wear a pocket protector? If, as I now suspect, oppositional disorder explains much of this adolescent behavior, does the malady still linger in his psyche -- perhaps even his genes? Is it lying dormant, like tuberculosis, just waiting to erupt and rain ruin on a marriage or career? (After all, many wives and bosses value concurrence.) Sadly, this could happen, and more besides. In fact, if the disorder is genetic in origin, it might even be passed on to his kids.

Reactionaries claim that the therapeutic model of child rearing (and school teaching) has gotten entirely out of hand. This archetype, they contend, has surreptitiously, and largely without reflection, become the doctrine that "informs" contemporary child rearing and schooling. Some of these critics even assert that lots of kids who are now "diagnosed" as disordered, need little more than love and limits; and that the therapeutic approach to child rearing is nose-bleed high in popularity because it:

lets parents off the hook,

enriches clinicians,

increases drug company profits and

garners school districts more state and federal assistance.

Those of us who have come to terms with the modern modus of diagnosis and remediation, know better than this. We realize that "brattiness," like guilt and responsibility, is passé -- a curious, even dangerous, coprolite of a by-gone age.