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Child OCD — Symptoms & Treatment

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in children is much more common than was previously believed. Recent studies demonstrate that about 1 in 100 American children suffers from OCD. OCD is a neurobiological disorder comprised of obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are involuntary and distressing intrusive thoughts, mental images, or fears of performing an impulsive behavior. These obsessions cause excessive and unwanted worry, fear, or overwhelmedness.

What is Child OCD?

In relation, compulsions are rituals or actions utilized by the child to deal with the feelings of overwhelmedness and fear caused by obsessions. Compulsive behaviors can become incredibly time consuming. Unfortunately, children feel they have to perform these compulsions and as a result, reinforce the vicious cycle of OCD.

Common obsessions in children with OCD:

  • Excessive concern over germs, diseases and illness
  • Excessive irrational fears about something bad happening, such as a family member getting hurt or killed
  • Being fixated about symmetry, order, exactness, or perfection
  • Obsession about a particular number or series of numbers
  • Preoccupation with thoughts about death or the afterlife
  • Fear that they might do something terrible or violent

Common compulsive behaviors in children with OCD:

  • Repeatedly seeking reassurance from parents and teachers
  • Frequent, excessive washing of hands
  • Repetitive checking to ensure the doors are locked or the stove is turned off
  • Refusing to throw away wrappers or hiding food under the bed
  • Excessive praying or chanting prayers
  • Fixation on self-imposed rules of orders or arrangement of thing
  • Excessive counting, recounting and repeatedly asking the same questions

What Causes OCD Among Children?

Child Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a genetic neurobiological illness that creates imbalance within certain regions of the brain. A combination of biological and environmental factors contributes to the development of OCD in children. Biological factors include genetic components and insufficient levels of serotonin in the brain. Environmental factors include physical or emotional abuse, loss of a loved one, parental divorce, abrupt changes in the school or living environment and other traumatic experiences. Even though environmental factors can influence when OCD begins, heredity and genetics play the major role in the development of OCD.

Treatment for Child & Adolescent OCD

OCD treatment will depend upon the health professional’s assessment based on the child’s age, health status, and maturity level. The severity of symptoms and the possible presence of co-occurring disorders are also important factors to consider in assessing the appropriate level of treatment. Studies have shown that the best and most effective treatment for OCD combines cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication to manage OCD symptoms. Therapy involves exposing the child gradually and systematically to his fears until the child no longer fears them, and incorporating response prevention through which the child is prohibited from engaging in compulsions to manage their fear and anxiety. Some children will need to do an intensive treatment program for OCD. Medications may include selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and should be prescribed and monitored by a psychiatric professional who is experienced in the treatment of both children and OCD.

Things to Know About OCD Treatment for Child & Adolescents

Child OCD treatment can be challenging due to children not having mature introspection or insight into their thoughts and behaviors, being fearful about confessing their frightening obsessive thoughts and fears, and having trouble expressing these thoughts and fears. Parents play a vital role in recognizing and helping their children get treatment for OCD.

If a child is 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, 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 person’s life, 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.