Children often thrive with routines or rituals. A regular and reoccurring order of events can make bedtime or going to school a much smoother process for kids and parents. But, could your child’s need for a specific routine be an indicator that there may be something more significant happening with their mental state? Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in children (OCD) isn’t as uncommon as one might think. Here’s what parents need to know.
What Is OCD?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as, “A pattern of unreasonable thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead you to do repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions interfere with daily activities and cause significant distress.”
Jonathan H. Hoffman, Ph.D., ABPP, is the co-founder and Clinical Director of The Neuro Behavioral Institute (NBI). NBI specializes in diagnosing and treating OCD. He tells Parentology, “These aren’t routines to help them master things. These are routines that interfere with their functioning.”
If your child’s need for specific routines becomes excessive or they experience distress when the routines are not completed, it may be cause for concern.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children: How Young Can it Start?
OCD is often viewed as an adult condition, unfortunately, that’s not the case. “OCD is a serious condition and affects much more children than we first imagined,” Hoffman says. “It’s not unusual. OCD is not a rare condition.”
According to the International OCD Foundation (IOCD), about a half a million children throughout the US are suffering with OCD. That number breaks down to about 1 in 200 children.
Hoffman says the earlier a child is diagnosed, the better chance they have at being successfully treated. “Since it’s a progressive condition, if they were to do something about it early, maybe it would never become what it could have been.”
Diagnosis can be tricky. Children suffering from OCD may appear frustrated, depressed or oppositional, however, those are often just symptoms of their underlying OCD.
Hoffman encourages parents to pay attention to the root of their child’s behavior, “These are children that have a hard time dealing with uncertainty,” he says. “They want to know for sure, they want the right answer, they want the right feeling, they want completion. These are all the issues that are indicative that it might be OCD.”
Can OCD Be Cured or Treated?
“Unfortunately, OCD is one of those conditions, like many, for which there really is no known cure, but, it can be successfully managed in the vast majority of cases with evidence-based treatment,” Hoffman says.
Hoffman explains the evidence-based form of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Exposure and Response Prevention has proven successful in the treatment of OCD.
Exposure and Response Prevention willingly puts kids in a situation where they feel discomfort and helps them learn how to master that situation. “The idea is by facing your fears you learn how to manage them,” Hoffman explains.
Sometimes treatment can also include medication, but Hoffman notes that most experts would recommend medication only in conjunction with some kind of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
There is hope for kids diagnosed with OCD. According to Hoffman, “3/4 of kids will improve at least moderately with appropriate treatment, some of them will improve to the point where you could hardly make this diagnosis anymore.”
If you suspect your child may be suffering, Hoffman suggests talking to your child’s pediatrician as a first step. Since OCD can be difficult to diagnose, he encourages parents to follow their instincts and continue to seek answers if they believe something isn’t right. Noting that when it comes to getting a diagnosis, “It’s often the parents that have to lead the way.”