Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder. A child with OCD has obsessive thoughts that are not wanted. They are linked to fears, such as touching dirty objects. He or she uses compulsive rituals to control the fears, such as excessive handwashing.
As children grow, rituals and obsessive thoughts normally happen with a purpose and focus based on age. Preschool children often have rituals and routines around meals, bathing, and bedtime. These help stabilize their expectations and view of their world. School-aged children often develop group rituals as they learn to play games, take part in team sports, and recite rhymes. Older children and teens start to collect objects and develop hobbies. These rituals help children to socialize and learn to deal with anxiety.
When a child has OCD, obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals can become very frequent and strong. They may interfere with daily living and normal development. OCD is more common in teens.
The cause of OCD is not known. Research suggests it’s a brain problem. People with OCD don’t have enough of a chemical called serotonin in their brain.
OCD tends to run in families. So it may be genetic. But it may also develop without a family history of OCD. In some cases, streptococcal infections may trigger OCD or make it worse.
Each child may have different symptoms. These are the most common symptoms:
Compulsive behaviors are the repetitive rituals used to ease anxiety caused by the obsessions. They can become excessive, disruptive, and time-consuming. They may interfere with daily activities and relationships. They may include:
The symptoms of OCD may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
A child psychiatrist or other mental health expert can diagnose OCD. He or she will do a mental health evaluation of your child. To be diagnosed with OCD, your child must have obsessions and compulsions that are continuous, severe, and disruptive. They must harm your child’s day-to-day living.
In most cases, the activities of OCD such as handwashing or checking the locks on doors use up more than 1 hour each day. They also cause mental health distress and affect how your child thinks. In most cases, adults realize that their actions are not normal to some degree. But often children are not able to see that their behavior is irrational and abnormal.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for OCD often involves a combination of the following:
Teens with OCD may also have one or more types of eating disorders. These will also need treatment.
Experts don’t know at this time how to prevent OCD in children and teens. But if you notice signs of OCD in your child, you can help by seeking an evaluation as soon as possible. Early treatment can ease symptoms and enhance your child’s normal development. It can also improve his or her quality of life.
OCD can be treated, usually with a combination of one-on-one therapy and medicines. You play a key supportive role in your child’s treatment. Here are things you can do to help your child:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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