Externalizing Disorders

What are Externalizing Disorders?

Externalizing disorders consist of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and Conduct Disorder (CD). The latter of these two are considered “disruptive behavior disorders” and entail a persistent pattern of behavior that may include defiance of authority figures, aggression, blaming others for one’s own mistakes, hostility, irritability, lying, angry outbursts (i.e. temper tantrums), intentionally annoying others, arguing with adults, and refusing to comply with requests. The most common behavior disorder in children is ADHD, which is characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Children with externalizing disorders may experience emotional problems (e.g. low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, etc.) and often have impairments in their social and academic functioning.

What Causes Externalizing Disorders?

There is no single cause for disruptive behavior disorders (i.e. ODD and CD). Contributing factors may include difficult child temperament, biological or neurological factors, environmental conditions, family instability, and inconsistent or inadequate parenting (e.g. lack of effective disciplinary techniques, poor supervision, etc.). Likewise, there is no single cause for ADHD. Theories suggest that there are several factors that may cause attention problems including, exposure to toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, drugs or tobacco) during pregnancy, brain trauma due to illness or injury, hereditary factors (i.e. genetics) and exposure to harmful chemicals in the environment. Research does not suggest that poor parenting is the cause of ADHD. However, the symptoms of ADHD and the subsequent impact they have on the child’s functioning in the environment can be ameliorated with appropriate parental accommodations and interventions.