Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD): Are Disability Benefits Available?

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

By , J.D. · Albany Law School
Updated by Diana Chaikin, Attorney · Seattle University School of Law

Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a mental impairment that affects children, mainly around their pre-adolescence. While it's normal for children to test boundaries and push back against parents and authorities to a certain extent, ODD behavior goes beyond normal disobedience and often rises to a level that requires professional help.

Children with ODD don't see their behavior as defiant. They feel like others are putting unreasonable demands on them when they're asked to behave properly. But because ODD can make it difficult for your child to appropriately socialize and meet developmental milestones, those with severe cases may qualify for Social Security disability benefits.

Is ODD a Disability?

If your child has a diagnosis of ODD and symptoms from the disorder have significantly affected their functioning for at least twelve months, they may be eligible for disability benefits through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program.

When Children Can Develop ODD

ODD generally begins in children between the ages of six and eight years old, but the disorder can emerge in children as young as two or three years old. Onset of ODD is rare in children older than 12, although if the disorder has already been established, the symptoms usually persist into the teen years.

Behaviors and Symptoms Associated With ODD

Symptoms of ODD are usually mild to start with and get worse over time. A professional diagnosis of ODD can be made when symptoms from the disorder have consistently interfered with a child's home, school, or social environment for at least six months.

As its name suggests, oppositional defiant disorder is characterized by uncooperative, aggressive, and confrontational behavior. Common ODD symptoms can include:

  • feeling angry or resentful towards other people
  • acting hostile towards people in positions of authority
  • having frequent temper tantrums
  • arguing a lot with adults and refusing to comply with their requests
  • annoying others or being easily annoyed by other people
  • placing the blame for their mistakes or misbehavior on others
  • having an angry attitude
  • seeking revenge and being spiteful, and
  • speaking harshly or unkindly.

Some children are diagnosed with ODD because they're explosive and angry, but others are just easily frustrated and inflexible—they might not be disobeying authority on purpose. Having a medical opinion from your child's psychologist or pediatrician can help Social Security understand the nature of their condition.

How Your Child Can Qualify for Disability Benefits With ODD

In order for your child to receive SSI benefits, your family will first need to meet the SSI income limits. Because SSI is a program meant for low-income families, if your family makes too much money or has too many resources ($2,000 in assets per individual, $3,000 per couple), then your child won't be eligible for benefits.

Once Social Security has determined that your family meets the income requirements, the agency will—with your permission—start gathering information about your child's medical condition. Generally, this means asking your child's doctors, therapists, and teachers for their notes on how your child interacts with others. Disability claims examiners review these observations and determine if your child's condition meets or is functionally equal to a listed impairment.

Qualifying for Disability by Meeting a Listed Impairment

Listed impairments are conditions that the Social Security Administration (SSA) has determined to be especially severe. Many mental health conditions diagnosable in children are listed impairments, and each one has a set of specific criteria that need to be present in your child's medical records in order for the SSA to say that they're disabled according to the listing.

ODD doesn't have its own listing under Social Security's category 112.00 for childhood mental disorders, but the agency might evaluate your child under a related listing (112.08) for personality and impulse-control disorders. In order to meet the requirements of Listing 112.08, your child's medical records need to show a "pervasive" (widespread) pattern of one or more of the following:

  • distrust and suspiciousness of others
  • detachment from social relationships
  • disregard for and violation of the rights of others
  • instability of interpersonal relationships
  • excessive emotionality and attention seeking
  • feelings of inadequacy
  • excessive need to be taken care of
  • preoccupation with perfectionism or orderliness, or
  • recurrent, impulsive, aggressive behavioral outbursts.

These above patterns need to cause "extreme" functional limitations in one, or "marked" limitations in two, of the following areas of mental functioning:

  • understanding, remembering, and applying information (such as following instructions)
  • interacting with others in a socially appropriate manner
  • concentrating, persisting, and maintaining pace (like with finishing chores), and
  • adapting or managing oneself ("staying out of trouble").

"Marked" limitations are in areas where your child needs a great deal of help functioning—for example, they might need lots of extra time to complete a homework assignment, but they'll eventually get it done. "Extreme" limitations are in areas where your child can rarely function independently, if at all. If your child regularly screams at the teacher giving out homework and refuses to complete assignments, the SSA will likely consider that an extreme limitation.

Qualifying for Disability by Functionally Equaling the Listings

Even if your child's medical records don't contain the evidence necessary to meet a listing, they can still get disability benefits by showing that their ODD symptoms are functionally equivalent to the listings. "Functional equivalence" means that your child is just as disabled as a child who meets the listing requirements exactly, but that disability manifests itself in a different way.

In order to equal the listings, Social Security still wants to see that your child has an extreme limitation in one, or marked limitations in two, of the functional areas. But the functional areas—also called domains—are slightly different from the ones used to determine if your child meets a listing. The six domains encompass a broader range of behaviors, both mental and physical:

  • acquiring and using information
  • attending and completing tasks
  • interacting and relating to others
  • moving about and manipulating objects
  • caring for self, and
  • health and physical well-being.

A child whose ODD causes them to lash out physically—harming themselves in the process—might have a marked or extreme limitation in the "physical well-being" domain, for example. Or, a child who ignores teachers' warnings out of defiance and is injured by a playground hazard would likely have a marked or extreme limitation in the "caring for self" domain.

What Happens When a Child With ODD Turns 18?

If your child's disability application is approved, they'll get SSI benefits until they turn 18 years old. At that point, Social Security will reevaluate them to see if they still qualify for benefits, a process called redetermination.

The SSA conducts redeterminations because the disability criteria for children are different from those for adults. For example, ODD can develop into antisocial or borderline personality disorder in adulthood. The agency will need to see whether your child has medically improved, meets an adult listing, or is unable to work full-time due to their mental impairment.

Read More

Oppositional defiant disorder is often comorbid (meaning it occurs at the same time) with other, related mental health impairments, such as the following:

For more information, see our articles on children's mental conditions that qualify for disability.

Updated April 3, 2023

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