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Posted on: March 25, 2020 | Dr. Todd Thatcher

Recognizing and Treating OCD in Children

Anxiety disorders can emerge for people in any age bracket, including children. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a specific type of anxiety disorder that involves a pattern of obsessive, distressing thoughts that result in compulsive behavioral urges. The compulsive behaviors are meant to quell the anxiety driving the condition, but the relief is only temporary, and the cycle of OCD thoughts and behaviors continue unless when successfully treated. The exact cause of OCD is unknown, but it is thought to be genetically based and linked to low serotonin levels in the brain. Highland Springs specializes in anxiety treatment that may be derived from OCD or other phobias. Contact us today for private anxiety treatment!

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How Young Can OCD Be Diagnosed And What Are The Symptoms In Toddlers?

Parents or caregivers may wonder how young can OCD be diagnosed, as sometimes it can start to show up in the early years of development. While the most common ages for children to be diagnosed with OCD are between 8 and 12 years or late teens to early adulthood, it can emerge even in toddlers. OCD symptoms in toddlers and preschool-aged children often manifest around baths, meals and other routines of their day. Normal developmental activities, such as sorting items by color or size may become obsessive for toddlers with OCD. If a child is showing signs of relying on sorting or other ordering tasks as a means of managing stress, this may be a sign of emerging OCD. 

As children age, OCD symptoms often shift. The early signs of the symptoms of OCD in children largely depend on their age range. For children who are in the elementary grades, rituals around play and group interactions are common, as well as obsessive thoughts relating to fear of germs or getting sick, fear of something going wrong, and disturbing thoughts or mental imagery about harming someone or dying. Children with OCD may feel as if things need to be done in a particular way and when it doesn’t work out, this may cause extreme anxiety and an urge to “correct” what is not right by engaging in a specific behavior, sometimes repeatedly. It is important to note that younger children with OCD will have less insight into their thoughts and behaviors, simply as a result of their developmental level. At early ages, OCD treatment may be less cognitively based, and a behavioral focus is often more appropriate. As children develop and learn reasoning skills, cognitive approaches can be introduced successfully.

Managing And Treating OCD In Children

It can be stressful to observe your child struggling with OCD. Parents and caregivers may feel helpless as they watch their child battle anxiety, distressing thoughts, and an urge to engage in ritual behaviors. The good news is that OCD is treatable. Through the use of specialized treatments of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and other psychotherapy modalities, OCD can be managed. With treatment, kids can have control over their symptoms rather than the other way around. In some cases, the use of medications can be helpful for OCD, depending on the severity of the symptoms and the impact on daily life. Medications for any condition in children should be carefully considered and thoughtfully approached. The use of medication is at the discretion of parents and their children’s treatment team and medical providers. Children’s unique needs require an individual assessment to determine what sort of treatment options are best. 

While the symptoms of OCD and impact of OCD on daily life may feel overwhelming, it is important to remember that treating OCD in children is effective and the results are lasting.  As children gain skill in recognizing OCD thoughts and feelings, they continue to practice distress tolerance around those thoughts. The skill-building kids learn and practice with their therapists offers greater control to resist compulsive urges. The work children do in OCD treatment is challenging, yet empowering. When kids can learn to manage anxious thoughts and feelings, they are no longer controlled by them, and this is a tremendous burden lifted. Repetitive rituals of OCD can take up a great deal of time and emotional energy, and parents are relieved when they are able to observe the positive changes in their children. In this way, OCD treatment can benefit children and parents. As children learn skills to manage symptoms, parents learn how to help their kids use those skills in daily life. The result is teamwork between the parents and family members to help children succeed and thrive in spite of the OCD diagnosis.

How We Can Help

If you have a child or loved one who seems to fit the symptoms of OCD, reach out for expert help at Highland Springs. You and your child do not need to face the challenges of OCD on your own. Out treatment centers offer comprehensive treatment options that include interactive therapies for the mind, body, and spirit. Kids with OCD who are treated at Highland Springs Clinic will receive the best care possible by trained professionals at the clinic who have extensive experience. Children benefit from OCD treatment at Highland Springs, and parents learn more about the condition and how to be supportive of kids who are struggling with it. The therapists who work with children with OCD will help them recognize anxious thoughts as well as the roots of those thoughts. Children and their therapists work together to develop ways to tolerate stressful thoughts and feelings without resorting to compulsive behaviors. We have had great success in helping kids with OCD manage symptoms and experience less stress in their lives. Reach out to our team and learn more about treatment options today.

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