January 6


OCD Symptoms in Children

By NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

January 6, 2022

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common anxiety disorder that can begin in childhood, although it is often underdiagnosed and underrated. It’s characterized by recurring obsessions (thoughts) and compulsions (behaviors) that people believe can ease their distress and ward off risks. Failing to complete these compulsions and obsessions can cause anxiety. In children, OCD can cause additional distress because they’re too young to comprehend why they’re behaving that way.

What Is Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD letters in crossword style
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

As one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, OCD is difficult to diagnose and treat in children. However, that doesn’t mean that OCD isn’t prevalent in children. According to Texas Children’s Hospital, it’s believed that in the United States, at least 1 in 200 adolescents and children experience pediatric OCD. That number is close to the number of children who suffer from diabetes.

Unlike the developmentally typical rituals associated with childhood, such as bedtime routines and superstitious behaviors, pediatric OCD is more intense and worrisome. It has numerous manifestations, whether it includes rules about germs or having things “just right.” A child who experiences pediatric OCD may have obsessive thoughts that aren’t wanted. As a result, the child uses compulsive rituals to control these fears, such as constant hand-washing or correcting the placement of items.

What Are Causes of OCD and Risk Factors?

Although OCD causes aren’t fully understood, medical professionals agree that it involves the way the brain affects behavior and emotion. The areas most affected involve its front area and cortical-brain circuits located in the deeper area. Certain evidence shows a small number of children who haven’t yet reached puberty experience the onset of OCD caused by issues about their immune system, including strep throat.

Also, some evidence shows that OCD occurs in the family, so genes might be a factor in the biological vulnerability of many individuals. Experts also claim that pediatric OCD has a stronger genetic correlation compared to adult-onset OCD.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of OCD?

Each child might experience different symptoms when it comes to pediatric OCD. Obsessions involve intrusive urges, thoughts, and images that occur constantly. These thoughts cause adolescents and children to believe they’re unwanted and disturbing. Some of the more common obsessions include:

  • A preoccupation with germs and dirt.
  • Unwanted thoughts.
  • Superstitious ideas about luck.
  • Concerns about symmetry.
  • Fear about losing all control.

Compulsions, also known as rituals, involve repeated mental acts or behaviors that people feel must happen in regards to obsessions. Even though children might have difficulties explaining their reasoning, these compulsions are sought to minimize distress as well as possibly prevent bad outcomes. Often, they can be time-consuming and excessive, as they might interfere with daily activities. A few examples of these behaviors include:

  • Repeated hand-washing, which includes more than 100 times each day.
  • Counting and recounting repeatedly.
  • Checking and rechecking if tasks were completed, such as ensuring a door is locked.
  • Asking the same questions frequently.
  • Grouping objects together and placing them in a specific order.

Avoiding certain situations that spurn compulsions and obsessions is a frequent response. Some examples include avoiding touching items and thinking certain thoughts. Avoidance is the immediate response since it eliminates anxiety and the need to participate in time-consuming rituals. It’s also called “safety behaviors” because they’re used to bypass discomfort and risk.

Do Boys and Girls Experience Different OCD Symptoms?

Both boys and girls are affected by pediatric OCD. However, boys are more likely to have a prepubescent onset of it, while girls are more likely to develop OCD during their adolescence or even in their 20s. It’s also important to note that both genders can have their OCD symptoms change over time. For instance, the child might begin with obsessive washing compulsions when they’re younger, but later on, develop other types of compulsions such as arranging items symmetrically otherwise something bad will happen.

How Is OCD Diagnosed in Children?

To determine if a child has pediatric OCD, a child psychiatrist, child psychologist, or mental health expert does a mental health evaluation of the child. The medical professional will determine if the child has compulsions or obsessions that are disruptive and interfere with daily living. Unlike adults who can comprehend that these actions aren’t normal to some degree, children cannot understand their behavior is irrational and abnormal. As a result, children might experience mental health distress and have it affect their thoughts.

What Is the Treatment Plan for OCD in Children?

Pediatric OCD is extremely treatable, but the treatment plan depends on the type of OCD. For children who experience OCD that is mild or moderate, they might participate in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), which uses exposure and response prevention (E/RP). For cases that range from moderate to severe, children might have a combination of CBT and medication management.

With CBT, parents and children are informed about how OCD occurs and how children can get out of that cycle. For E/RP, the child’s and family’s willingness to participate in the treatment plan must be established. Through this option, children and adolescents develop mental muscles to stop OCD behavior. In both instances, parents have a strong supporting and reinforcing role. They are instructed on how to best change the engagement they have with their children to help minimize behaviors that spurn certain OCD symptoms.

Often, OCD in children occurs concurrently with certain disorders such as Tourette syndrome and ADHD, so the broad treatment plan must also factor them. Depending on the other disorders, the priorities, as well as the treatment plan, might need altering, especially if medication is involved.

Contact the Experts at NeuroHealth Today!

A child who has OCD has obsessive thoughts and behaviors, and unlike adults, children might not fully understand or feel embarrassed that they have these behaviors. Since obsessive compulsions and obsessions tend to worsen over time without proper treatment, it’s important to work with a medical professional if you believe your child has OCD. The professionals at NeuroHealth Arlington Heights can help you determine the best treatment plan for your child. Reach out to us today to schedule your initial appointment.

NeuroHealth Arlington Heights

About the author

For over 20 years, NeuroHealth Arlington Heights has been offering neuropsychological and psychological assessments and treatments for people of all ages. These assessments and treatments address Behavioral, Emotional, & Social Issues, Neurocognitive Functions, and Neurodevelopmental Growth.