Child and Adolescent OCD – Symptoms, Treatment and Family Support
What is Child and Adolescent OCD?
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a genetic condition that typically develops between the ages of 9 and 11 years of age. For some children suffering from autoimmune conditions, OCD can start much earlier. This anxiety disorder can take over a child’s life in a short period of time and leave parents feeling distressed and confused about what is happening to their child. Regardless of when the genetic code is unlocked and symptoms of OCD emerge, OCD is a chronic condition that benefits from early assessment and intervention. Luckily, for those suffering from OCD, there is a way out of the OCD cycle and it begins with OCD treatment.
OCD is an anxiety disorder that is comprised of obsessions (fearful thoughts, images or fears of acting on an unwanted impulse) and compulsions (repetitive behaviors developed as a way to reduce the anxiety triggered by obsessions). Unfortunately, due to a lack of awareness and education about OCD even within the medical community, these children and adolescents can remain undiagnosed. For some children or teens, OCD can remain hidden until parents witness changes in demeanor or see overt compulsive behaviors.
Having a child or adolescent with OCD can feel as though another child is suddenly present in the home. It is not uncommon for children and adolescents suffering from OCD to utilize parents and family members to accommodate and enable their condition for their OCD or seek reassurance. Repeated questions that are similar in nature, needing the house to be in a certain order, or having members of the family act in a certain way can easily become a distressing “new normal” in the home. This accommodation and enabling can disrupt and strain the family dynamic, create tension between parents, and impact other children in the household.
Common symptoms of Child and Adolescent OCD
There are multiple sub-types of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Each sub-type has a particular theme and pattern, but children can demonstrate symptoms within multiple subtypes. Here is a list of the common obsessions and compulsions for children and adolescents suffering from OCD.
Common Obsessions in Children and Adolescents
- Fears of contamination from contact with people, clothing, shoes, germs, bacteria, or school items
- Fear something bad will happen
- Excessive need for perfection in homework, tests, or writing
- Excessively doubting whether or not they turned off household items and appliances
- Distressing sexual thoughts
- Fears of accidently harming a loved one
- Superstitious fears
- Magical thinking (believing that two events are connected when in reality there is no connection at all)
Common Compulsions in Children and Adolescents
- Seeking reassurance from parents, teachers and other family members
- Morning rituals before school
- Evening bedtime rituals prior to going to sleep
- Compulsive hand washing or excessively long showers
- Repeating actions and ritualized behaviors over objects, areas, or in specific rooms
- Needing items in their room to be a certain order, symmetry or place
- Excessively re-reading or rewriting homework, tests or textbooks
- Checking lights, household appliances to make sure they turned them off
- Avoidance of people, places or circumstances in which their obsessions are triggered
Other Issues Resulting from OCD in Children, Teen & Young Adults
OCD and anxiety can create significant distress in children. Without having effective tools and strategies to combat OCD and anxiety, children are left to employ compulsive behaviors to neutralize their anxiety, which unfortunately worsens their OCD and further entrenches the cycle of obsessions, anxiety, and compulsive behaviors. These compulsive behaviors can start to take over a child’s life and that of his or her family, as well. As a result, school, sports, or other extra curricular activities can start to suffer. Poor grades, the avoidance of school or homework, and withdrawal from friends and loved ones can result from untreated OCD.
Alongside of academic issues, behavioral changes result from OCD. Children suffering from frequent OCD and anxiety can easily become angry or lash out at peers, siblings or parents. By treating OCD directly, additional issues can be eliminated that have arisen as a result of suffering from chronic anxiety.
OCD Treatment Options for Child or Adolescents
Weekly Treatment Session Options for Child and Adolescent OCD
Children and adolescents who may be suffering from OCD are encouraged to seek treatment from a mental health treatment provider that specializes in the treatment of OCD. OCD specialists are equipped and prepared to treat a wide array of OCD subtypes for children as well as adolescents, and beyond. OCD can be treated with Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), specifically with treatment approaches called Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
Mindful-Based CBT teaches patients that everyone experiences intrusive thoughts. Individuals will also learn that intrusive thoughts have no power over them and that by responding to their thoughts through compulsive behaviors, their thoughts are given more strength and credibility and their fears and obsessions are strengthened and reinforced. Mindfulness-Based CBT is a very effective OCD treatment, especially when combined with ERP.
ERP exposes patients to situations related to their intrusive thoughts that cause them anxiety. The goal of this treatment is for the patient to prevent himself or herself from completing their compulsive behaviors when triggered by intrusive thoughts. The situations that are confronted will intensify over time, until the patient can face and overcome their most feared scenario. Once they are able to stop themselves from responding to their intrusive thoughts with compulsive behaviors, they can experience tremendous relief from the symptoms of OCD.
Child and Adolescent OCD Intensive Treatment Program
If children or adolescents are suffering from severe levels of anxiety due to their OCD, they may benefit from participating in treatment at an Intensive Outpatient (IOP) OCD treatment program for children or adolescents, as is offered by The Gateway Institute. The Gateway Institute offers Intensive Outpatient treatment options as well as regular outpatient psychotherapy sessions, and a free, 30 minute face-to-face consultation with one of our experienced and caring clinicians at all three of our beautiful locations in Orange County, Scottsdale, Arizona, and the San Francisco Bay Area. OCD symptoms typically worsen over time and can take over a child’s life, as well as the family’s, so it is very important to seek OCD treatment as soon as possible with a skilled and dedicated OCD specialist who can provide expertise and support during this journey.
Co-Occurring Anxiety Disorders in Children & Adolescents
OCD has a high level of comorbidity with other anxiety disorders. This means that it is not uncommon for those suffering from OCD to also be suffering from other anxiety conditions like panic attacks, social anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), body-dysmorphic disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is not uncommon for an individual to suffer from multiple anxiety disorders. Treating co-occurring conditions simultaneously is important in finding balance and healing from anxiety.
The Gateway Institute is here to support you in getting the help that you need.
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