Without treatment OCD is usually a lifelong illness with periodic worsening and improvement of symptoms. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can be used to help children face the very situation they fear without having to resort to their rituals. This has to be done gradually. Coping strategies are introduced and children are encouraged to log the frequency of their worrying thoughts. Many obsessions and compulsions can be reduced to a point where they no longer interfere with normal life or are eliminated altogether. Some children may also find counselling of use. Medication can provide an almost instant relief to people suffering from OCD but it should be used together with other coping strategies. 

Knowing how to respond to a child who suffers from OCD can help them to overcome some of their fears. It is important to show patience, kindness and to be sympathetic. However do not tell them to stop performing their ritual but at the same time do not actively support their behaviour. 

Case Study:

A 10 year old child who recently suffered the death of a close family member has started to wash his hands very frequently. His hands look red and sore but he finds it impossible to stop washing them. He looks worried and self absorbed but will not say what his problem is. He frequently asks to be reassured about situations that seem trivial and unimportant. 

This child was diagnosed with OCD and was offered counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy. At first he resisted believing that he had a problem and was loathe to talk to his counsellor. However after allowing time to build a trust between him and his counsellor he was able to learn ways to reduce his worries and his handwashing. Medication was also advised and together with strategies given to him by his counsellor and support and a great deal of patience from his parents and those close to him, he managed to get his life back to a greater degree of normality. These strategies included:

  • Writing down each worry with the time the worry occurred and the reason for the worry.
  •  Distraction techniques – go and do a puzzle or read a book or do something you enjoy doing.
  •  Visualisation – pick a place where you feel relaxed and happy and when you get a worry think of this place.
  • If you give in to the worry (for example, keep washing your hands) the worry will get worse. If you resist the worry, no matter how hard, the strength of the worry will decrease and the time between occurrences of the worry will increase. 

He has spells of coping well but can also relapse and start washing his hands too frequently, usually when he is tired or when a stressful incident occurs in his life. He is always aware of his worries but as long as he uses the techniques learned from his counsellor he is able to put them to the back of his mind. 

It is important to look for the signs indicated in this article to show that a learner might have OCD and to make a referral expressing your concerns to the appropriate member of staff. The websites listed below give a lot of useful information on supporting learners with OCD. Most interventions and support should initially be made by a medical practitioner. 

Useful books and websites:

Atkinson, M. & Hornby, G. (2002) Mental Health Handbook For Schools.London: RoutledgeFalmer 

Toates, F. (1990) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. What is it? How to deal with it. Harper Collins.London 

www.ocduk.org – a charity run by sufferers of OCD for sufferers providing facts about OCD

www.livingwithocd.co.uk – Information and advice on how to beat the disorder.

This and other articles from Dave are available at www.behavioursolutions.com