Oppositional Defiant Disorder: Are Disability Benefits Available?

Children or teenagers with severe hostility, lack of impulse control, and impaired social functioning may qualify for SSI benefits.

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a mental impairment that affects children, generally in their adolescence. While it is normal for a child to go through some level of disobedience in their youth, ODD goes beyond normal disobedience and often rise to a level that requires professional help. If your child has ODD and it has affected their ability to function, they may be eligible for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

Overview of Oppositional Defiant Disorder

ODD generally begins in children before the age of eight years old. While it can begin later than eight years old, it rarely begins in children who have already entered their teenage years.

Symptoms usually begin mild and get worse over time. In order to fit this diagnosis, children must have symptoms that are constant for at least six months, and these symptoms must significantly interfere with their home or school environment and/or with social activities. Symptoms include:

  • feelings of anger or resentment towards others
  • negativity
  • hostility towards people in positions of authority
  • temper tantrums
  • loses temper easily
  • argumentative with adults and refuses to comply with their requests
  • annoys others on purpose
  • blames others for their mistakes or misbehaviors
  • gets annoyed easily; touchy
  • is spiteful and seeks revenge
  • aggression towards others his age
  • loss or lack of friends; difficulty keeping friends
  • academic problems
  • gets in trouble at school often, and
  • lack of self esteem.

Children with ODD do not see their behavior as defiant. They feel as though others are putting unreasonable demands on them when asked to behave properly. Some children are diagnosed with ODD because they are explosive and angry, but they are actually just easily frustrated and inflexible; these children may not be disobeying authority on purpose.

Related Impairments

ODD is often times a symptom of another mental impairment. Those with ODD often times also suffer from:

ODD can also precede borderline personality disorder.

Qualifying for Disability Benefits

In order to receive SSI benefits, the family with whom the child lives must meet  income limits. If the income requirements are met, the child’s medical impairments will be assessed by the Social Security Administration (SSA). To qualify for benefits, your child must meet a disability listing published by the SSA or functionally equal the listings.

Meeting a Disability Listing

If your child’s ODD is a symptom of another mental impairment, such as anxiety or depression, your child’s impairment should be evaluated under the appropriate children's mental health listing.

If your child’s ODD is determined to not be a symptom of another mental impairment, your child may be able to meet the disability listing for organic mental disorders. To meet this listing, your child must exhibit one of the following:

  • disturbances in personality, such as hostility, or
  • problems with impulse control, such as explosive outbursts when losing their temper.

In addition to one of the above, it must also be shown that the child has a marked impairment in social functioning compared to others his or her age. A marked limitation is a limitation that seriously interferes with the child’s ability to initiate, sustain, or complete tasks by themselves. With regards to social functioning, Social Security will look at your child’s ability to start and carry on interactions with others and their ability to maintain friendships with others their age.

Functionally Equal the Listings

Children who do not specifically meet the listing for organic mental disorders or another disability listing may be able to receive benefits by showing that their impairments  functionally equal the listings. A child's impairment can be found functionally equivalent to the listings if the child has an extreme limitation in social functioning or a severe limitation in social functioning plus a limitation in one other area, such as learning or self-care.

For those with ODD that is severe, the ability to function at school due to difficulty with interactions with those in positions of authority and listening and responding properly to their teachers would be seriously limited. Additionally, difficulty with controlling their temper and interacting with others their age would further limit their overall functional ability. Depending on the circumstances, these limitations could be considered extreme enough to be equivalent to the listings.

Turning 18

Children who have received benefits for ODD will need to be reevaluated when they turn 18 years old. If untreated or unresponsive to treatment, ODD can develop into conduct disorder or antisocial personality disorder in adulthood.

When a child turns 18, the SSA evaluates ongoing mental impairments using SSA's Listing 12.00 for adult mental disorders. If the ODD was caused by an underlying mental impairment, your child may continue to qualify for that impairment when under the adult listing for the impairment in the “Blue Book.”

For more information on the reevaluation that occurs when a child 18, see our article on  age 18 redeterminations.

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