Educator's Guide to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children
By Leah Davies, M.Ed.
Individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) have difficulty processing information. They do the same thing again and again to alleviate their unwanted and distressful thoughts. These illogical thoughts, urges and images are called obsessions and can include marked fear of germs, being hurt, hurting someone, and doubting themselves. It is estimated that one to two percent of American children have OCD and that a correct diagnosis and appropriate treatment are often unavailable.
Obsessions lead to compulsive actions or rituals that individuals are driven to perform. Some examples are: excessive hand washing, hoarding, arranging things in exact order, and repeatedly checking to see if the stove or faucet is turned off. Other compulsions are continually repeating words or numbers and avoiding certain objects or situations that an individual may perceive as harmful.
Although OCD usually begins in adolescence or young adulthood, elementary-aged children, as well as preschoolers, have been diagnosed with OCD. In primary school children with OCD usually become aware that their thinking or actions are different than those of their peers and family members. They often begin to think of themselves as being stupid or crazy. Other common reactions are embarrassment or hiding or suppressing their symptoms. As a result their self-esteem is adversely affected.
OCD can significantly interfere with a child's normal functioning, academic progress and social relationships. Particular obsessions seem to change as children grow older. Some sufferers experience a progression of traits, while others have symptoms that increase and decrease over time. The disorder may last a lifetime.
A child with OCD may exhibit the following behaviors at school:
Behaviors that may occur at home, include:
Questions to Consider
If a child's behavior is extreme, the teacher, school counselor and/or administrator need to meet with a parent or guardian to share their concerns.
Children with OCD are usually treated by an adolescent psychiatrist with a combination of cognitive and behavioral techniques and, at times, medication. The disorder often occurs in families, but a child may be diagnosed with OCD without a family history of the disorder. Open communication among all of those involved with the child is necessary to increase understanding of the complex issues associated with OCD.
For more information on OCD and ways to accommodate students with the disorder see: www.schoolbehavior.com .