Oppositional Defiant Disorder

When I began my career working with children and adolescents in 1990, I worked on the adolescent units of one of New England’s oldest and most venerable psychiatric hospitals. This institution, or more properly the professionals who staffed it, excelled at patient education, and those who stayed at the hospital left with comprehensive insights into the illnesses with which they were afflicted and must deal on a daily basis. An ethic of transparency and a will to assist patients in living full and independent lives guided this practice. It was impressive to watch and I believe everyone who participated in it found it professional gratifying.

That ethic is absent from the institution in which I am currently posted. We see plenty of students with clear mental health issues, but these more often than not go unrecognized and therefore unaddressed. Other than my own experience working with psychiatric patients, I hold no brief for dealing with mental health issues; I am a teacher with basically no professional training in the behavioral sciences.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t deal with young people with behavioral challenges. I do, almost constantly. I’ve wondered over the years whether it would be possible to present to students the kind of patient education sessions I observed in the hospital while couching them in the vocabulary and domain-specific content of the high school curriculum. In the past, when various of my students have asked me about ADD/ADHD and learning, the ensuing discussion were stimulating, engaging, and, it appeared at the moment, productive of good outcomes. Students, I find, actually do want to know why school is such a struggle for them.

So I’ve wondered if I could design a mini-curriculum on these issues, and teach them as literacy exercises in the content area, in this case, I guess, the sciences. I’ve been thinking about this over the years as I’ve struggled to design curriculum to assist struggling students with test performance–the be-all and end-all of teaching now, as depressing as that is. (Aside: one of the tropes I hear from my more enlightened and talented colleagues goes like this: “I don’t work for [insert name of corporate textbook publishing behemoth here].” Yet we must prepare our students to take their infernal tests.

Anyway, yesterday I worked up typescripts and worksheets for three of the topics I would address in such a unit, and I’ll post them here over the next couple of weeks. To start, here is an Intellectual Devotional reading on oppositional defiant disorder and a reading comprehension worksheet to accompany it. I’d be very interested in hearing from you if you used this in your classroom. I think this material might be adaptable for a professional development session. Perhaps it might be useful as a handout for parents?

If you find typos in these documents, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

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