Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety-based disorder from which sufferers develop obsessions and compulsions. Typically, the person with OCD believes something bad will happen if his obsessions and compulsions are not carried out. A child with OCD may wash his hands dozens of times a day or count to 1,000 every time he sees the letter A. With proper treatment and support, children can overcome their OCD.
Children with OCD worry in the extreme about things being dirty, wrong or dangerous. They may fear their parents will die if they do not count to 100 before their parents get from the front door to the car. They may become so afraid of germs that they insist on wearing gloves before touching any door handles. The list of possible obsessions and compulsions is endless, but each of them is based on fear.
Relentless thoughts of danger, harm or scariness are called obsessions. The need to perform physical tasks over and over again are called compulsions.
An estimated 1 percent of all children have some degree of OCD, according to MayoClinic.com. It is caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals, including serotonin. The disorder does have a strong genetic link. A child with OCD typically has one or more relatives with OCD.
OCD is generally diagnosed through taking a history of behaviors, a family medical history and ruling out physical causes for the problem. Children with OCD spend more than an hour a day thinking obsessive thoughts or performing compulsive rituals. The time it takes to perform rituals and think obsessive thoughts can interfere with daily responsibilities, including homework, chores and mealtimes.
Examples of obsessions include a constant fear of germs, believing in lucky or unlucky numerals, constant thoughts about sex, strong fear of illness, fear that a loved one will die and religious obsession.
The most common compulsions noted in children with OCD include washing hands, bathing and brushing teeth many times each day, arranging objects in specific order, counting, performing physical rituals to reverse any contact with an unwanted person and checking things over and over to be sure they are turned off or on.
Treatment usually combines medication with behavior modification therapy. Several anti-anxiety medications are approved for children to take for OCD, including Buspar. Medication targets brain receptors, while behavior modification works on changing the child’s thought patterns and addressing anxiety-provoking situations. Therapy can also provide the child with coping skills for anxiety-producing situations.
Many children with OCD can overcome the disorder with proper treatment and patience. Some children outgrow the disorder as they age and as their brain chemicals continue to evolve. Others simply learn coping skills that allow them to stop giving in to compulsions and obsessions. For those who do not overcome or eliminate the disorder, a continued treatment plan can help them keep symptoms at bay.
For severe cases of OCD, residential treatment centers provide specialized care for children with anxiety disorders. The residential center will provide around-the-clock care, medical supervision, group therapy and individual therapy. Family counseling is typically provided to help family members understand the child’s OCD and how to approach it once the child is released.