Watching your child struggle and feeling unable to help them is among the most heartbreaking experiences any parent endures, but it’s a feeling that every parent is sure to encounter at some point. It may be the loss of a loved one, a breakup, or a dream that is dashed. However, despite how difficult they may be to witness, most parents understand that these types of problems will improve given time. In the case of mental health disorders, there often is no such silver lining. When problems like obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) arise in children, parents may not understand the condition or how to address it, finding themselves in completely uncharted territory.
Symptoms of OCD in Children
The images associated with OCD are often those of obsessive cleaning, organizing or sufferers who must complete complicated rituals before ever leaving their home. While these are some real ways in which OCD may manifest, the condition can reveal itself in many different forms.
As the name implies, OCD is comprised of obsessive thoughts and compulsive actions. In very general terms, those with OCD experience unwanted, intrusive thoughts and typically develop the compulsive behavior as a way to cope. Still these links are not always readily obvious, particularly in children who often lack the vocabulary and understanding to accurately describe what they are experiencing. Symptoms also tend to develop gradually, and many parents may not notice them for some time. When they do, the signs may include:
- Rituals that become upsetting to a child when not performed properly. They will often insist that the ritual be completed again, correctly.
- The same gestures or movements occurring repeatedly.
- Focusing on a special number or specifically on even or odd numbers and requiring that certain tasks be done that number of times.
Such symptoms are more common ways in which compulsive behaviors may manifest. However, there are countless other potential signs. In some cases, the “behaviors” may be completed mentally and not be readily observed by an outsider, delaying discovery of the condition.
Treating OCD in Children
OCD affects about 3 percent of children, generally showing up between the ages of 6 and 12 years old. Early intervention and treatment is key to helping those affected understand and cope with their disorder in healthy ways. When a psychiatrist suspects OCD, treatment recommendations may include a form of therapy known as “exposure and response” and medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Involvement of parents in treatment is also key to success, as they too will need to develop the tools to help both themselves and their child cope.
OCD is far more common than many believe, and while it may appear in childhood, it is not often recognized for a considerable amount of time. If you are a parent who has observed OCD-like behavior in your child, consult a psychiatrist. There is no harm in doing so, and it may even set your child on the path to a healthier mental state. In the Baton Rouge area, Dr. Ashley Albarado is a board-certified child psychiatrist treating adolescent patients suffering from OCD and many other conditions. Contact Psychiatry Associates of Baton Rouge to request an appointment.