OCD, Children and Teenagers
Early signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
OCD can often develop at a very young age, and in our experience, it can be essential to ‘catch the symptoms’ early. Children may be experiencing OCD without even knowing it. A common problem regarding children and emotional distress is that the child may not be able to articulate how they feel clearly. Watch out for signs of abnormal routines or things taking longer than they should. Depending on the child’s age, many children suffer in silence due to peer pressure, bullying, and the stigma of having some form of emotional disorder.
Here are a few early signs that your child may be suffering from OCD:
- Distress is when a routine is interrupted or stopped.
- Repeated behaviours that can appear to be unusual
- Difficulty explaining why they feel like they ‘have’ to do their behaviours
- Children can be very good at hiding their OCD symptoms due to embarrassment or feeling ashamed.
- Reassurance isn’t enough, and the child may display anxiety if they are not given enough reassurance.
- Children, depending on age, can begin to understand that they may be thinking or behaving differently to other children around them. This can lead to low self-esteem and even depression.
As children are still developing, they often have less insight into their obsessions than adults. This, along with the fact that many children’s speech and language are still developing, can make it challenging to know when your child may have OCD. Furthermore, this may also make gaining a formal diagnosis more difficult. The types of OCD that develop are primarily different between children and adults. A common symptom can relate to preventing harm from coming to parents of children. Many children who experience OCD feel overly responsible for their loved ones’ wellbeing, whereby they start to have intrusive thoughts about harm coming to their loved ones. They then feel the need to perform some ritual to protect their loved ones’ or prevent something wrong from happening. This is just one example of how OCD can affect children. There is also evidence to suggest that children with OCD are less likely to have intrusive thoughts about sex.
In contrast, adolescents and young adults are more likely to have sexually related fears. Therefore, when seeking treatment for children with OCD, the inclusion of parents can be of utmost importance. In our experience, treatment can benefit from parents being present for at least some intensive treatment when working with children.
Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS): A possible link between children and OCD
It seems that relevant research suggests that there could be a link between the development of a child’s OCD and an autoimmune system in the brain. A disease known as Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections (or “PANDAS”) is thought to be triggered by an infection deriving from the same bacteria that can also cause strep throat scarlet fever. This is the process that is believed to unfold, which may lead to the onset of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder:
- The child’s immune system fights the strep infection.
- The immune system becomes confused, leading the immune system to attack a part of the brain called the basal ganglia.
- The basal ganglia play a crucial role in the suffering of OCD.
- Although the development of OCD can often be gradual for some, those children that appear to develop OCD as a result of PANDAS have displayed a much more rapid rate of development
Possible impacts of OCD on school life
There can be vast differences in how OCD affects children, depending on the environment. For many children, OCD symptoms are more easily suppressed in school. However, this can be an exhausting and distracting process. Look out for some of the following behaviours when trying to recognize if your child has OCD. Many parents begin researching treatment when their child’s performance at school becomes hindered by their OCD symptoms.
- Socially isolating themselves from their peers: Avoiding situations where they will come into contact with others or a break-down of friendships.
- Low self-esteem: Children commonly recognize that their thoughts and behaviours are different from others around them, leading to low self-esteem.
- A mention of bullying: Often, if a child’s OCD symptoms are starting to affect their school life, then other children may pick up on these unusual routines, which can lead to bullying
- An inability to concentrate on relevant schoolwork: Reoccurring intrusive thoughts can make it extremely difficult for children to concentrate when in school. Delays in submitting work, actively taking part in a class, or being unable to finish homework are all indicators that OCD may be prevalent.
How can our program help children and teenagers with OCD?
We can work with children from a very young age. With a program specifically tailored for children, our 5 and 10 day one to one intensive program and our group options have effectively helped many young people out there who were previously suffering in silence. Often children can be highly receptive to new information and are very capable of putting newly learned skills into action. We are particularly proud of our child-friendly program, which is simple, straightforward, easy to understand, and uses abstract ways to communicate information to children.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can appear to be vast and complex, even for adults, yet in our experience, it is indeed very treatable regardless of the person’s age. Using clear diagrams, straightforward language, and scenarios that children can relate to, we feel that we have created something which is not unique but incredibly effective in relieving OCD symptoms in children.