Signs That Something Is Wrong

Defiance is normal. What isn't? While ODD is extremely rare and virtually impossible to diagnose in toddlers, some behaviors could point to other problems that need medical or psychiatric attention.

ODD, Autism, and Developmental Disorders

Because part of the criteria for diagnosing ODD is a pattern of defiant behaviors persisting at least six months, it's hard to diagnose a toddler as having ODD — he just doesn't have enough history! The same goes for ADHD. However, you're the parent, and you know your child better than anyone else, so if you think the child's behaviors are on track to ODD or ADHD, contact a child psychologist to talk about decreasing the risk now. In addition, consider that your child's behaviors could be symptoms of another disorder, as described below.

Children who appear uninterested in social interaction and who are extremely inflexible regarding changes to their routine may be autistic. Unlike ODD, autism usually includes significant language impairment. Autistic children may be able to use speech, but they may not do so normally or for the purposes of communicating with others so much as to get basic needs met or as part of a preoccupation with a particular activity.

There are other developmental disorders that are less common than autism but may have some symptoms in common with ODD. Autism is part of a broader classification called “pervasive developmental disorder” (PDD); there is also a type of autism called Asperger syndrome in which language develops more normally than in typical autism. If you believe your child's behaviors could be symptomatic of one of these disorders, or if you suspect your child may show signs of mental retardation, visit a pediatric specialist as soon as possible for early diagnosis and the best possible treatment plan.

Illness, Injury, and Trauma

If you suspect your child has had an illness, injury, or other trauma that has affected brain development and therefore behavior, you should visit a pediatric specialist as soon as possible. Especially if your child is adopted, or has been cared for by others for a significant amount of time, you may not have complete and accurate information on the history of her care, and a toddler with even normal language development may not be able to tell you if there has been an injury or trauma. Any concerns you have about your child's brain development should be addressed immediately.

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