Diagnosing Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in Children

Diagnosing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in children can be tricky, because young children are incapable of making judgments as to whether certain behaviors are rational or excessive. Children love routines and rituals, and this behavior is not a predictor of obsessive compulsive disorder. There are also no specific scientific tests that can be administered. Careful observations of obsessive or excessive tendencies are generally the best evidence that there may be a problem.

OCD in Children
Children who persistently worry about trivial matters may have OCD. Children with the disorder are prone to carry out their rituals in private for fear of ridicule. It is possible that organization in a child's bedroom, checking and rechecking that things are done correctly and becoming agitated by siblings who interfere with the process may all be evidence of OCD. 

A diagnosis of obsessive compulsive disorder in children under 10 is not uncommon. Careful observation can determine whether a child feels compulsive or obsessive about systematically performing a given task, so keeping a journal of your observations can be a useful aid in reaching a diagnosis.

At times, OCD in children is trivialized as merely an attention seeking episode, or an attempt to please parents. A child who washes her hands repeatedly might have an obsessive fear of germs rather than a desire to prove she knows the importance of hand washing. Complicating matters, it's not uncommon for children to want to repeat something over and over again once they learn how to do it. There are no hard and fast rules, other than to watch for the behavior to subside on its own.

A child who is persistently tardy may be suffering with OCD. Overwhelming urges to complete rituals that take an excessive amount of time can often cause lateness. Shyness or an excessive need for privacy can also be a tipoff, because children with OCD often realize that something is wrong and fear the reactions of others who see their rituals.

It is quite natural for children to be worried about losing a loved one, particularly if there has been a recent death of a family member or friend. Mindful observation of how a child reacts or how long he spends in mourning is especially important. Some children with OCD have irrational fears of losing someone close to them, and may behave in a clingy and distressed manner. Children who are obsessive may also refuse to attend school due to fear that one or both parents may be lost while they are gone.

Don't Dismiss the Behavior
The painstaking efforts of parents who continually excuse unusual behaviors as particular phases of growth eventually come to a head when these behaviors can no longer be logically seen as normal. OCD can be upsetting to parents who blame themselves for its presence. Education about the disorder and what obsessive and compulsive behaviors to expect is the best avenue for recovery.

OCD may be linked to a medical condition. An evaluation by your pediatrician is a good place to start if you suspect something's wrong. If no medical cause can be found, a child psychologist should be consulted to look for emotional causes. In some cases, therapy or prescriptions may be needed to bring the condition under control. 

There are many online support groups available for parents of children with obsessive compulsive disorder, and a local physician or mental health worker may also be able to direct you to a local disorder support group.

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