What is It: ODD or Asperger’s? (Dr. James Sutton)

BTCounselorWe are putting this article in “The Counselor’s Corner” section because counselors, therapists and clinicians are often faced with making distinctions of diagnoses as they would pertain to the intervention or treatment they provide. Certainly, this information should be valuable to parents, teachers and other child-service professionals as well.

The line separating ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) and Asperger’s Syndrome sometimes can be quite fine. That being said, I can’t see where I would diagnose both conditions in the same child or teen, although I’ve seen it done. In the case of these conditions, I believe it’s best to stay with one diagnosis or the other.

Fargo2BFirst of all, it’s quite possible that behaviors characteristic of ODD will continue without ever being diagnosed. Short-term interventions might bring just enough compliance for a child to clear a hurdle, such as doing just enough work at the end of the school year to pass–barely. Everyone then draws a sigh of relief and takes a break, until the next hurdle.

A child with Asperger’s Syndrome, the highest level of functioning on a diagnostic continuum called Autism Spectrum Disorders, is less likely to slip through the cracks undiagnosed. Youngsters with Asperger’s tend to have unusual mannerisms that, over time, are bound to be recognized and addressed.

Let’s compare these two youngsters on five characteristics: Etiology, Language and Communication, Social Awareness and Interaction, Capacity to Adapt, and Nature of Noncompliance.

Etiology: The behaviors characteristic of ODD are mostly related to temperament and the youngster’s perception of and reaction to circumstances and events close to them. External events can influence behavior dramatically, a critical notion in intervention. There are many theories as to the causes of Asperger’s, but genetics and organicity (brain chemistry and neurology) are thought to play a big part. With these children, issues of the condition are thought to be more internal than external.

Language & Communication: Although Asperger’s youngsters might have strong language skills, they are apt to comment inappropriately and even talk incessantly about a topic of their interest. The tone, volume and even the precision of their speech can be affected. They also have trouble with communication that contains humor, especially when it is subtle. ODD kids, on the other hand, “get” the message in humor, can have excellent language and communication skills, and can use them well. In fact, they’d often rather talk than do–which is precisely the problem.

Social Awareness & Interaction: ODD youngsters tend to be socially aware and responsive. They can participate in groups, enjoy athletics and are good leaders (partly because they don’t care to be compliant to another leader). By contrast, Asperger’s youngsters don’t handle social contexts well at all. In fact, they tend to isolate. Avoidance of eye contact is a big issue, and it is diagnostically significant. These youngsters often fail to sense a group code of conduct, something that can be reflected in their interactions.

Capacity to Adapt: ODD children and teens can and do adapt pretty well to new and unique situations. It’s interesting to note, however, that new and unique circumstances often put a temporary halt to defiant behavior, as the child is not yet “comfortable” enough to be defiant. (There’s a hint for intervention.) Youngsters with Asperger’s Syndrome don’t handle change well at all. Change for them is uncomfortable; it’s apt to bring on significant tantrum behavior and even meltdowns.

Nature of Noncompliance: ODD youngsters generally understand the compliance expected of them. They just don’t want to do it. There can be a strong quality of arrogance and passive-aggression in their noncompliance. Asperger’s kids, on the other hand, can distract themselves from compliance. They don’t necessarily intend to refuse, but the job doesn’t get done. They also can have trouble distinguishing that a compliance request is a specific direction, not a suggestion.

As one can readily see, treatment of these two conditions would be quite different.


Dr. James Sutton is a child and adolescent psychologist and former Special Education teacher. He is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network. [website]


Conflict in the Schools: Addressing the Costs (Guest: Kenneth Johnson)


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KJohnsonphotoAny study of conflict reveals that it can be good or bad. According to the findings of Kenneth Johnson, the guest on this program, conflict that costs us dearly in terms of human potential and financial resources is the conflict we find in our schools.

Costs of conflict nationwide are staggering. If we don’t begin to deal with it more effectively, many folks fear it will become unmanageable. Taking action NOW is the topic of this program, as Dr. Sutton interviews Mr. Johnson on addressing concerns that should be paramount to us all.

Consider, for instance, the school issue of bullying. With all the attention and resources given to bullying over the past decade or two, is there less bullying today?

Consider also those at-risk students who, through no fault of their own, come to school with circumstances and disadvantages that hold them back from the start. Poverty, poor nutrition and health, backgrounds of abuse, alcoholism, drugs and addiction, plus poor readiness skills, cause these youngsters to experience stress and trouble with performance-based standards. Their frustration can lead to behavior problems, a high dropout rate, increased juvenile crime, and a strain on social services, law enforcement and judicial systems.  Suicide, the number one cause of death in young people, is, of course, the ultimate concern.

Schools and educators, bound by laws and burdensome expectations, are also under a great deal of pressure. Some of our best teachers leave the profession on a regular basis.

KJohnsonbookAccording to Mr. Johnson, resolution of conflict in the schools starts at the community level and involves everyone. In his comprehensive book, Unbroken Circles(sm): Restoring Schools One Conflict at a Time, Mr. Johnson outlines a comprehensive, step-by-step guided process for addressing concerns of conflict while getting everyone involved in the process. In activities of daily circles, for instance, students are taught restorative practices in ways that hold their interest and draw authentic participation. The potential for applied concepts like Restorative Justice is more than encouraging, it’s life-changing.

Kenneth Johnson is culturalist (a social scientist), a Collaborative Justice specialist in the field of Conflict Dynamics, and an experienced mediator and consultant. He’s an expert in what is called Alternative Dispute Resolution and Restorative Justice–and he has a big heart for young people. (27:39)


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Goal-setting and Consistency Help Children Gain Confidence (Christy Monson)

BTAboutThemWe all like to plan and set goals at the first of a new year. One of the most important is to consider how we can help our children feel confident.

What skills do they want to learn? How can we help them set short-term and long-term goals?

CMonsonphotoDecide a daily plan of action with your child, and then be consistent in the follow-through.

Marietta’s Concern

Eight-year-old Marietta knows she’s not a very good reader. She came home from school one day crying; the kids had teased her about her reading in front of the class.

Mom (a single parent) let Marietta share her feelings and then talked with her about the problem. Mom realized that, as a parent, she needed to spend more time with Marietta to help her gain the skills to feel confident.

A Plan with a Goal

Marietta and Mom set a goal to read together every night. Mom worked two nights a week, so they found several reading games Marietta could do by herself when she was with the sitter. The rest of the week they read together.


Both mother and daughter devoted themselves to their goals consistently for six months, and Marietta’s reading improved. She developed enough confidence to read in front of the class without faltering. Plus they enjoyed the time they spent together, so they continued setting additional goals with other activities.

A Special Bond

Working together consistently had bonded the two of them in a special way. Mom confided to me later that Marietta’s problems were a blessing in their lives because the goal-time they spent at first became fun-time as the weeks went by.


The PRIMARY reward of goal-setting and

consistency is the parent-child bond you

establish. A SECONDARY reward is all your

child learns in the process.


Additional Benefits of Goal-setting and Consistency

LOVE: I know you care about me enough to help me.

SELF-ESTEEM: I feel great about myself because I can see myself growing.

CONFIDENCE:  I can negotiate my goals to meet my needs and wants.

SKILL: I am good at the things I am practicing.

SECURITY: I know how to take care of myself and my surroundings.

PROBLEM-SOLVING ABILITY: If a problem arises, I can solve it.

ACCOUNTABILITY: I am accountable for my progress and growth.


Change doesn’t happen overnight. But, as we consistently set goals with our children and work with them daily, we will see progress, growth and change. In doing this we help them along the road to responsible adulthood.


Christy Monson, retired marriage and family therapist, writes articles and books that support and strengthen individuals and their families. [website]



Working with Difficult Kids Doesn’t Have to be So Difficult (Guest: Ruth Herman Wells)

BTRadioIntEmail Subscribers: Go to the website to see the many “freebies” offered by our guest experts and to listen to radio-style interviews on the podcast player.)


This is a re-post of a popular interview


RuthWellsphotoInappropriate behavior in young people, especially when it happens at school, can range from withdrawal to academic shutdown, to anger and aggression, and even to bullying. The price of these behaviors in terms of school failure, fear, frustration and off-task distraction can be quite high. Teachers can’t teach, and students can’t learn.

Our guest on this program, Ruth Herman Wells, is an experienced expert on difficult behaviors in young people and how to deal with them effectively. She will share how the skills we learned way back when often fall short of solving today’s problems. Ruth will share her perspective on intervention, and she’ll direct listeners to many more complimentary resources she has made available to them. In short, we all can learn better ways of dealing with difficult behavior.

booksRuth is the director and founder of Youth Change Professional Development Workshops out of Oregon. She’s the creator of the Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth Workshop and book series, and she’s the author of All the Best Answers for the Worst Kid Problems, The Quickest Kid Fixer-Uppers and the Behavior Change Handouts. In addition to the training she does throughout North America, Ruth offers many ideas and resources through her free, monthly newsletter, “Behavior Change Problem-Solver Magazine.” (28:31)


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In The Spotlight (Christy Ziglar and Dr. Daniel Trussell)

BTSpotlightChristy Ziglar

Christy Ziglar, CFP(r) is an experienced personal financial advisor by training. While developing a financial literacy program for young students in the Atlanta Public Schools, she discovered that many of those youngsters lacked the basic skills of goal-setting, delayed gratification and the self discipline required to make good choices in general. She was inspired to launch the Shine Bright Kid Company and to write the Shine Bright Kids stories to help children ages 4 to 8 learn to focus on things that matter most.

ChristyPhotoIn addition to being an experienced financial planner, Christy is the mother of twins and niece of the late Zig Ziglar, legendary speaker and motivator. Her books incorporate a favorite Zig Ziglar word of encouragement to highlight the wisdom and message of the story. Ideals Children’s Books loved the concept and agreed to be the publisher.

Can’t-Wait Willow was the first Shine Bright Kids picture book. It’s about making good decisions and learning how to put off the good in order to have something better in the end (delayed gratification).

RaiseBrighterKids_270 squareWillow exceeded all expectations, going into reprint much earlier than expected and was names a “Most Beloved Bedtime Story of 2013″ by Red Tricycle, as well as the “Children & Teens Book of the Year” by Book Gateway.com. The second book, Must-Have Marvin, is headed for reprint and was named one of the “Best Books of 2014″ by Atlanta Parent Magazine. It stresses relationships and valuing people over possessions. The third book in the series, Whatever Wanda, is scheduled for release in April of 2015; it will emphasize the importance of a positive attitude.

It certainly looks like Christy, the Shine Bright Kids and Ideals Children’s Books are moving in a direction that would make Uncle Zig very proud, indeed.

For more information about Christy and the Shine Bright Kids, visit the website [link], where you’ll also find free materials and activities for children and families. (Check the free materials page here on the Network, also.)

To access Christy’s radio-style interviews and articles on The Changing Behavior Network, use the search box on the right by typing in “Christy Ziglar.”


Dr. Daniel Trussell

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADr. Daniel Trussell is a Licensed Professional Counselor, positive psychology coach and author who has spent his career helping individuals and families reduce and prevent mental health concerns and problems. Currently CEO of WebStar Behavioral Health, he comes from a background in clinical and senior executive positions in managed care, non-profit and governmental agencies. Dan has a clear picture of the concerns and the costs.

But he also has a vision for solutions, especially when it comes to the health and vitality of families. Dan’s most recent work, How Families Flourish: A workbook for family optimization, is a compilation of 50 years of research findings in the fields of psychodynamics, family structure therapy, behavioral analysis, attachment theory and positive psychology (the science and study of happiness).

DTrussellHow Families Flourish: A workbook for family optimization, written to be both informative and interactive, is divided into three sections. The first section identifies 18 characteristics of families that flourish and experience highest levels of life satisfaction. This section also explores common mistakes made by families that are floundering and languishing.

The second section of the book introduces a taxonomy of universal character strengths that broadens and builds positive emotional experience, increases resiliency to life’s challenges and deepens healthy family attachment, respect and communication.

The third and final section, “The Family Charter,” is a step-by-step guide for constructing an action plan for creating and sustaining optimal family functioning.

How Families Flourish: A workbook for family optimization will help any family and its members improve as they strive to flourish. The book is a must-have for any professionals working with families.

Dr. Trussell also provides workshops, webinars and individual consultation with parents seeking to overcome oppositional behavior problems in the home and create more family harmony.

To learn more about Dr. Trussell and his work, go to his website [link]. He has also provided an excellent and generous resource to our page of free professional materials here on the Network.

To access Dr. Trussell’s radio-style interviews and articles on The Changing Behavior Network, use the search box on the right, typing in “Dr. Daniel Trussell.”

A Cry for Help (Response by Judge Tom Jacobs)

BTQuestionsJudge Tom Jacobs is a retired and very experienced juvenile court judge. He lives in Arizona and is the founder and host of a website entitled Ask the Judge. Judge Tom makes his time and expertise available online to young people who are looking for answers to some of their problems (especially legal ones), knowing they do not have to give their names.

As you will see, Judge Tom is also a merchant of hope. He contacted me this week, sharing an email he had received. I’m sure you will agree that this young person was at a desperate point; he or she didn’t see many options left.

Since this young person can remain anonymous, I asked Judge Tom if we could share this question sent to him, as well as his answer, on The Changing Behavior Network. It is important to reinforce the fact that issues of bullying and thoughts of suicide in our young people are very real everyday. –JDS


I am very suicidal and I am bullied very bad and I really need help I have asked teachers and I have talked to the therapist and it does not help and I have been feeling more depressed lately and I have been thinking about ending it but can I file against the people who bully me (sic)


Dear Writer: First, understand that help in your situation is available to you. Suicide is definitely not the answer or the way to deal with your bullying or depression. It may end your pain, but think of the pain it would cause those who love you and care about you. Keep talking with your parents, teachers and therapist. Tell them exactly what’s going on and how it makes you feel.

The answer to your question is “Yes;” you can take measures against the bullies. But you need your parents sto help with this. They can talk to the school or the police about protecting you. They can go to court and ask the judge for a protective order that would be sent to the bullies. There are ways to put a stop to bullying, but only if you tell someone what’s going on who can take action on your behalf. Stay strong and believe that things will get better. We care about you and your well-being. Stay in touch with us–we’ll be thinking about you.

(This is information only — not legal advice.)

Judge Tom Jacobs is the founder and host of Ask the Judge [website]. He is the author of a number of books, including Teen Cyberbullying Investigated and What Are My Rights?


(Have a question you’d like to see answered? Send it to admin@thechangingbehaviornetwork.com)

An Anger at Birth (Guest: Dr. John Mayer)

BTRadioInt(Email Subscribers: Go to the website to see the many “freebies” offered by our guest experts and to listen to radio-style interviews on the podcast player.)


If you don’t mind getting a scattering of answers to the same question, ask it of counselors and therapists. Differences typically evaporate, however, when you ask them to describe the most challenging youngster they encounter.

It’s the child or teen (or an adult, for that matter) with persistent issues of anger. (One reason for an angry youngster’s resistance to change is that angry behavior is reinforced in the moment of an angry or violent act. Turning that therapeutic corner can be a frustrating challenge, even for the best of specialists.)

JMayerphotoOur guest on this program, Dr. John Mayer, is a psychologist in the Chicago area; his specialty is violent and troubled teens. Through his recent novel, An Anger At Birth, Dr. Mayer sheds plenty of light on youngsters showing existential, pathological anger and rage.

Although the book is fiction, it is based on real circumstances and events. Being fiction, the book allows the reader to know a very angry youngster’s thoughts and motives.

Listen in as your host, Dr. James Sutton, asks Dr. Mayer to share his insights, as well as his experiences regarding treatment for these young people.

JMayerAngerBookcoverHere’s a quick look at the plot of An Anger at Birth.

A city is paralyzed by fear after a series of violent crimes that break an ultimate taboo: the harm of infants and young children. The police suspect a pedophile; the media fuel fears of a violent new gang. Meanwhile, a street-smart shrink and a hard-nosed cop defy the focus of the larger investigation to pursue the real serial killer, a raging time bomb who’s planning an ultimate attack on innocents.

Dr. Mayer’s fast-paced novel pulls the reader into the world of violent, troubled individuals–and what happens when we fail to help them. (28:28)

http://www.jemayerbooks.com (This site can also take you to Dr. Mayer’s professional website and contact information.)

TO LISTEN, use the player below or left-click the link. To access the file right-click and “Save Link as …” to save to your audio device), CLICK HERE FOR LINK


Ask the Question: “What Can I Do for You?” (Dr. James Sutton)

BTAboutThem(Email Subscribers: Go to the website to see the many “freebies” offered by our guest experts and to listen to radio-style interviews on the podcast player.)



Children and teens can sometimes be suspicious of the motives of adults toward them. Here’s a simple strategy that can be used by teachers, counselors and other child-service professionals to demonstrate good faith and intent. Parents can find it helpful with their own kids or with other youngsters as part of volunteer work. And, of course, some parents are child-service professionals, also.

JohnWoodenLegendary UCLA Coach John Wooden knew people as well as he knew basketball. His authentic generosity endeared him quickly to others. If a young man failed to make the team, Coach Wooden would work with him to find a way he could participate and contribute while a student at the university. “What can I do for you?” is something Coach Wooden asked often.

And he always meant it.


Part of a Good Assessment

JDSphotoAs a school psychologist and later a private-practice consulting psychologist, I did a lot of assessments and interviews with youngsters presenting emotional or behavioral difficulties. In some cases, these kids were referred through law enforcement or the family court. Some kids were NOT excited to see me. (I learned to leave my necktie in the car. It’s no fun being strangled with your own clothing, but that’s another story.) This little strategy worked pretty well with the tough kids, but it worked well with the withdrawn and tender kids, also.

During the assessment, generally near the end of it, I would ask, “If I could do something for you, what would it be?” I would then grin and quickly explain that it had to be something legal, ethical and moral—and cost a dollar or less.



The tough kids were generally caught off-guard by the question. They were expecting me to do something to them, not for them. It was often the case they couldn’t think of anything right away. A little patience would pay off, and I discovered that a youngster’s response was often diagnostically significant.


Doable Stuff

It often surprised me just how doable many of these requests were:

A middle school boy asked if I would teach him how to work the combination to his school locker. He had been carrying all of his books to every class.

Another young man was living in a group home after his mother passed away. He simply asked if I could help him get a small picture of her. Grandmother had taken down all of his mother’s pictures after the funeral. It took almost three weeks to get Mom’s picture from her. It was an obituary card from the funeral. The boy showed it to everyone who would take a look, then he tacked it up on the wall next to his bed.

A young lady began crying as soon as I asked the question. All she wanted was a decorative plate from her grandmother’s house. She had always admired that plate as it hung on the wall in the living room. When Grandmother died, all the children divided her belongings among themselves. They had not given thought to the grandkids. It only took a phone call for the girl to get the plate. How easy was that?

A fifth grader asked if I could get the chain fixed on his go kart. His parents were divorced; the go kart was a birthday gift from his father. Finances being tight, Mom could not afford the repair. We were able to put the touch on a kind-hearted tractor mechanic. He not only fixed the chain in a few minutes, he received a blessing in doing so.

Attempts to honor requests like these might not carry great therapeutic value in every case, but they almost always boost rapport and help with trust. It can make a tremendous difference in future visits with a youngster.

So give it a try. Ask the question.

Gypsy’s Mark: Connecting with a Difficult Student (Donna Burns)

BTClassroom(Email Subscribers: Go to the website to see the many “freebies” offered by our guest experts and to listen to radio-style interviews on the podcast player.)


If you’ve been a teacher for any time at all, you’ve experienced students that are especially difficult. My greatest challenge came during my third year of teaching.

Tommy was a “Jekyll and Hyde” sort of eighth-grader. He could be the sweetest kid in class one moment and a terror the next. I always stressed discipline and compliance in my science class, feeling that a combination of horseplay, carelessness and chemicals could get someone seriously hurt in a hurry. Consequently, Tommy and I butted heads regularly. Our relationship was shaky, even on a good day.

It wasn’t because I hadn’t tried to find a way to reach him, to develop a foundation of a positive relationship; I just wasn’t successful. My one and only “in” with Tommy was our squirrel dog, Gypsy.

Tommy, like my husband and me, was an avid hunter and dog owner. I would share stories of Gypsy with the class, and Tommy and I would swap hunting stories during the “better” moments. But, for the most part, I felt that I was just not reaching him.

All of that changed. I was grading papers on the living room floor one cold and rainy evening. Piled around me were stacks of “Need to be graded,” “Graded,” “Still to be recorded,” and “I don’t have a clue what THIS is!” My husband came into the house with Gypsy close on his heels. Before he could wipe her paws, she tore through the kitchen and landed squarely on top of me and the papers.

At the moment, I was more concerned about her getting mud on the carpet, so I paid little attention to the damage she had done to my students’ papers. I just shoved them all into my backpack.

paw printAs I was returning graded and recorded papers to the class the next day, Tommy cleared his seat with a shout:

“Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Burns … LOOK; a Gypsy print!”

Tommy was grinning from ear-to-ear and, sure enough, planted squarely in the center of Tommy’s paper was a perfectly formed, muddy, paw print.

From that moment on things were different between Tommy and me. We still had our days, but the relationship was much, much better.

It’s been over five years now, and Tommy still asks about my husband … and about Gypsy … who is still very much a part of our family. —

 When she shared this story, Donna Burns was a middle school science teacher from Hillsboro, West Virginia.

Identifying and Cultivating Your Child’s Core Strengths (Dr. Daniel Trussell)

(Email subscribers: Go to the website to see the many “freebies” offered by our guest experts and to listen to radio-style interviews on the podcast player.)


Most parents want to help develop their child’s strengths but don’t know where to start. It can be overwhelming to determine what your child’s strengths are and then to set up experiences where your child is challenged to activate those strengths.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen I ask parents to describe their child’s strengths, I get answers like, “He’s good at getting his way,” or “She excels in soccer” or “He’s a natural artist.” While these are all skills worth cultivating, I want to challenge you to think differently about strengths. In their landmark book, Character Strengths and Virtues ( Oxford University Press, 2004), Peterson and Seligman developed a taxonomy of universal virtues and the strengths associated with each of those six virtues.

Six Virtues
The six virtues found in all cultures include Wisdom, Courage, Humanity Justice, Temperance and Transcendence.

Acting on these virtues not only defines an individual as living a superior life, but also leads to greater life satisfaction both individually and collectively.

Peterson and Seligman assigned different strengths that embody each of the universal virtues. They are listed below.

Wisdom and Knowledge— acquiring and using knowledge



Judgement and critical thinking

Love of learning



Courage— accomplishing goals in the face of opposition






Humanity— strengths of befriending and tending to others



Social and emotional intelligence


Justice–strengths that build community





Temperance–strengths that protect against excess

Forgiveness and mercy





Transcendence— strengths that connect us to the larger universe

Appreciation of beauty






While some of these strengths become evident in the first years of life, others do not develop until adolescence. Although young children can express forgiveness, for example, it is almost always conditional and typically includes an element of revenge. It requires emotional and intellectual development, along with an abundance of life experience to be able to show mercy, forgiveness without revenge.  Young children can  tell jokes and be funny, but humor, the capacity to change another’s affect through bittersweet observation, is often not cultivated until much later in life.

Cultivating Core Strengths

To cultivate a child’s core strengths, that child must be exposed to activities that align with their strengths. No child will have all the virtues and strengths; a good rule of thumb is to determine the top five and the lowest five.  Plan abundant activities that allow a child to use their top strengths and limit activities that require use of their lowest strengths to maximize life satisfaction and general well-being.

If you child is high in appreciation of beauty, you could attend art exhibits, hike to beautiful places or find environments that allow her to get in touch with her appreciation and awe. Conversely, if your child is low in persistence, assign chores that don’t pay great attention to details.

To download a list of activities associated with each strength mentioned here, send me an email to drdanieltrussell@gmail.com or go to 264 Character Building Activities for Kids

 Daniel Trussell, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, CPCS is author of How Families Flourish, a parenting guide using the constructs of applied positive psychology. To learn more about his program go to http://www.howfamiliesflourish.com