Obsessive-compulsive disorder in children presents families with behaviors that can be difficult to understand and frustrating for those who care most for the child. It’s important for adults to learn the signs and symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) so they are better able to provide specialized treatment early in the child’s life. With the right coping techniques and a supportive treatment team, children with OCD can experience the positive aspects of their childhood and keep the anxiety associated with OCD at bay.
The anxiety experienced by a child with OCD is not the same as typical childhood worries. Many kids worry about getting good grades or being friends with their peers. But children with OCD can get completely wrapped up by intrusive thoughts to the exclusion of everything else. They may feel compelled to methodically review every assignment, making sure that they have finished it “perfectly.” In their mind, there may be no room for error, even when it comes to the way they print their name.
These behaviors are not a result of a child who is trying to be difficult or challenging. Instead it is a result of an anxiety disorder that is so disruptive the child is trying desperately to understand their own behavior. They are embarrassed that they cannot control their thoughts or actions and become increasingly isolated as the symptoms become worse. They do everything they can to hide their obsessive-compulsive behaviors from others, even their parents. They can’t see that their behaviors are related to their anxiety.
Fortunately, when the symptoms of OCD are identified in a child, they are able to get the specialized treatment that is most effective in treating the symptoms and addressing the intrusive thoughts. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the gold standard of treatment for anxiety disorders. Exposure and ritual prevention therapy is a form of CBT that helps children with OCD address their anxiety in a challenging, yet manageable way. They are able to confront their fears without being overwhelmed or flooded by their anxiety.
When the effects of OCD and anxiety are lifted, children are able to participate in the typical childhood activities that many kids their age are experiencing. Friendships are within reach because the child is no longer bound to the behaviors they experienced from their OCD. School becomes less of a problem because children with perfectionism issues are able to manage those thoughts. They are able to complete their assignments and stay on track. Rituals are replaced with routines that are typical for most kids. The task-intensive world they once lived in is replaced with the tools they need to manage their anxiety.
Frequently, changes like these can be attributed to the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with exposure and ritual prevention (ERP). This treatment has been shown to be very effective in the treatment of OCD and other anxiety disorders. The OCD treatment teams at Rogers Memorial Hospital are known for their experience and expertise and provide this type of effective treatment for children, teens and adults. Outcome studies performed at Rogers have shown that severe anxiety can be reduced to a manageable level using CBT.