The mission of The Mental Health Association of Westchester County, Inc. is to promote mental health in Westchester, New York through advocacy, community education and direct services.

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Disruptive Behavior Disorders - Children and Adolescents

What are Disruptive Behavior Disorders?

Disruptive Behavior Disorders involve consistent patterns of behaviors that “break the rules.” All young people break some rules, especially less important ones. More serious oppositional behavior is a normal part of childhood for children two and three years old and for young teenagers. At other times, when young people are routinely very, very oppositional and defiant of authority, a mental health disorder may be identified.

The main Disruptive Behavior Disorders are Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder
In Oppositional Defiant Disorder, the rules broken are usually those in the family and the school. Oppositional Defiant Disorder may occur in children of any age and in adolescents. Sometimes Oppositional Defiant Disorder leads to Conduct Disorder.

Examples of Oppositional Defiant Disorder behaviors are:

    • Frequent defiance of the authority of parents, teachers and others
    • Arguing and refusing to obey rules at home and school
    • Failure to take responsibility for bad behavior or mistakes
    • Resentment and looking for revenge
    • Regular temper tantrums

Conduct Disorder Behaviors
In Conduct Disorder, the rules broken include the regulations and laws made by society. Conduct Disorder usually occurs in older children and adolescents.

Examples of Conduct Disorder behaviors are:

    • Aggressive behaviors that threaten or harm people or animals
    • Behaviors that destroy property such as fire setting, breaking windows or graffiti
    • Stealing, bullying or lying to get something
    • Serious violations of rules, including school truancy and running away from home

What Causes Disruptive Behavior Disorders?

Research has identified both biological and environmental causes for Disruptive Behavior Disorders. Youngsters most at risk for Oppositional Defiant and Conduct Disorders are those who have low birth weight, neurological damage or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Youngsters may also be at risk if they were rejected by their mothers as babies, separated from their parents and not given good foster care, physically or sexually abused, raised in homes with mothers who were abused, or living in poverty.

How can Disruptive Behavior Disorders be treated?

Because so many of the factors that cause Disruptive Behavior Disorders happen very early in a child’s life, it is important to recognize the problems as early as possible and get treatment. The treatment that has shown the best results is a combination of:

  • Specialized parent skills training
  • Behavior therapies to teach young people how to control and express feelings in healthy ways
  • Coordination of services with the young person’s school and other involved agencies
  • Parent training and therapy with the child or adolescent, most effective when done in the family home

No medications have been consistently useful in reducing the symptoms of Oppositional Defiant or Conduct Disorders. Medications may be helpful to some young people, but they tend to have side effects that must be monitored carefully.

Additional Information about Disruptive Behavior Disorders

Mental Health Association America
NMHA is a national organization dedicated to promoting mental health through education and advocacy. This site gives a good description of Conduct Disorder.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
The Academy is an organization for physicians trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses and emotional disturbances in children and adolescents. This site gives a short description of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, its symptoms and effective treatments.
This site gives a short description of Conduct Disorder, its symptoms and effective treatments.



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