By Kerrie McLoughlin
What is the first thing you think of when you hear about obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)? Maybe you think of the TV show Monk, of someone who washes their hands over and over, of someone who loves a schedule and hates germs. It is estimated that as many as 1 out of every 200 kids or teens has OCD.
For most of us, it is easy to keep ourselves from performing an action over and over. Sure, I might really want to check the mailbox every hour, but I stop myself. There is no voice in my head egging me on and telling me I simply must do it or that I might die if I don’t … or that something bad could happen to my family or myself if I don’t do it.
Kids and teens with OCD feel compelled to perform an action (e.g., washing their hands dozens of times or tapping out a pattern on the table hundreds of times) or something bad might happen, and they become obsessed with performing the action to obey what their brain is telling them to do. Their brain is essentially telling them that they will feel better if they perform the specific action. In reality, obeying the action sets the brain so that it wants to do it even more frequently.
One day, my then-7-year-old son could not stop himself from going up and down our stairs in a specific pattern one day. He was crying while he was on the stairs, but at the same time he said he could not stop. He had done quirky things in the past, like walking in a pattern or stepping over cracks, but these things had never made him visibly upset.
As his symptoms got worse, I went into Mama Bear mode. I got on the phone and Internet to navigate the world of insurance, therapy visits, typical treatment length and costs. A therapist came to our house for the first visit (since getting my son into the car did not seem possible at that point), and I bought the book Talking Back to OCD by John S. March so I could be doing something in between weekly therapy appointments and know what was ahead.
What works well for many kids facing OCD is Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) treatment. In essence, it is like having to face one’s fears. If a child’s compulsion is being afraid to go up a set of stairs because he always has to perform the same debilitating rituals, then he doesn’t avoid the stairs (exposure). Instead, he faces the stairs head-on and might keep a chart of how many times he performs the ritual on the stairs and how many times he is able to stop (response prevention) so he can see his progress.
If you suspect your child or teen has OCD, you are certainly not alone, and there is a lot of great information and help out there. Make an appointment with a reputable therapist and see what she has to say, just to get started. OCD can definitely be treated, often without medication.
My son is now 17, enjoys Geometry, reading and time with his friends, and he works part-time at a restaurant. ERT worked for him, and he did not need medication. Every child is different, but I hope my son’s situation gives you encouragement if your family is going through this. OCD can be treated successfully!
Children’s books about OCD:
- Up and Down the Worry Hill: A Children’s Book about Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Its Treatment by Aureen Pinto Wagner, PhD
- What to do When Your Child Has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Strategies and Solutions by Aureen Pinto Wagner, PhD
- Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Powerful, Practical Program for Parents of Children and Adolescents by Tamar E. Chansky
Kerrie McLoughlin, homeschooling mom of 5, blogs at TheKerrieShow.com.