Children with OCD: what are the signs?
How common is OCD in children and teens?OCD typically becomes more problematic and has a significant impact on the lives of adolescent men and women in their early 20s, with women more likely to experience the condition (75%). A type of anxiety disorder less commonly diagnosed in children, cases of kids as young as six have been reported. Charity OCD-UK report that around 25% of diagnosed cases start by the age of 14, with a gradual onset of symptoms typically occurring. OCD can be more difficult to spot in children and teens. Younger children may struggle to express how they are feeling, while older children and teens may feel embarrassed, confused, or ashamed. This can make it trickier for parents and teachers to spot problems as they start to arise. Knowing what symptoms and signs to look out for specifically in children and teens can help us to recognise when additional help and support may be needed.
OCD rituals, compulsions, and signs to look out forWhile OCD affects everyone differently, it usually causes a pattern of thoughts and behaviours exhibited through four main steps:
- Obsession - unwanted or intrusive thoughts that are often distressing, repeatedly entering or playing on the person's mind.
- Anxiety - intense feelings of anxiety or distress, often brought about by obsessive, intrusive thoughts.
- Compulsion - repeating actions or thoughts that they feel compelled to do, due to the anxiety and distress caused by obsessive thoughts.
- Temporary relief - a short reprieve from completion of compulsive actions, followed by the return of anxiety and obsession, leading to the cycle beginning once again.
At school, in clubs or extracurricular activities
- Repetitive actions e.g. getting up from their chair multiple times in a set way, taking and replacing a book from a shelf or bag multiple times, arranging pens/crayons in a specific or ‘right’ order, touching or tapping things a set number of times or in a specific way.
- Handwriting anxiety e.g. appearing worried about their writing being neat, erasing words or letters until they get them ‘right’, scribbling out pages that are ‘wrong’, tearing out pages with mistakes.
- Avoiding interaction with other children or equipment whilst playing outside.
- Frequent requests to use the toilet.
- Counting or repeating steps e.g. repeating the same path to class three times before entering, counting the number of steps between the classroom and playground.
- Expressing frustration, anger or upset when shifting between subjects.
- Asking questions repeatedly or seeking reassurance that an answer is correct numerous times.
- Seeming distracted, disengaged, or having trouble listening in class.
- Fear of coming into contact with germs from common everyday objects or things in the outside world e.g. pets, wildlife, rubbish.
- Expressing little or no interest in playing with new children or toys.
- Hoarding or collecting high quantities of objects.
- Spending an unusually long or excessive amount of time washing their hands or possessions, or frequently returning to the restroom to re-wash their hands.
- Increased time completing everyday tasks such as getting dressed, finishing homework, showering, or packing for school.
- Insisting a parent or loved one do or say things in an exact way.
- Completing rituals or sharing worries or fears that making a mistake may cause bad things to happen. E.g. not counting to a certain number whilst completing a task may result in a loved one being injured or not checking the door a set number of times could lead to the house being broken in to.
- Showing an unusual preoccupation with death or abstract concepts like good and evil.
- An intense interest or obsession with a specific number e.g. they may prefer the number three, repeating actions in groups of three, retracing their steps three times, or cutting food into three equal pieces.
- Difficulty making decisions or seeming indecisive.
Help and supportIf you are concerned about a young person, it’s important to seek help and support if OCD may be having a significant impact on their life. If you are worried about a child or teen, try talking to them about your concerns; it is unlikely that things will get better on their own without a formal diagnosis, treatment and support. Let them know that there are people who love and care about them, and are there to support and listen to them. Speaking to their GP about symptoms can be one of the first steps towards getting a referral to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service). To find a qualified counsellor specialising in children’s mental health and OCD near you, use our advanced search.
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