A friend of mine recently brought up a concern he had and was worried that he was overreacting. His son, who is friends with my youngest daughter, was beginning to struggle in school. It wasn’t that the educational material was beyond him. The problem was that his son refused to turn in the work he had already completed.
In the beginning, my friend was just confused. The teacher sent a note home explaining that his son was doing the work but not handing it into her. When she had asked why, his son had become agitated and said it wasn’t done, even though she could clearly see he had completed it.
This back-and-forth continued to happen for several more days until the teacher insisted he needed to turn in his work. At that point, the boy had become almost inconsolably upset and had to be removed from the class. When the teacher and other staff tried to figure out what was wrong, he kept insisting none of his work was done yet, and he had to “fix it.”
Worrying Signs of Mental Illness
My friend was worried, but he wondered if it was just a phase. However, he has since gone with his son to his pediatrician, who recommended a child psychologist that specializes in childhood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).
You see, this isn’t the only symptom that my friend’s son was experiencing. He would become overwhelmed if people tried to move anything out of place in his unusually spotless room. He also became highly anxious at the idea of others touching his possessions. When asked a simple question, like if he wanted a snack, my friend’s son would sometimes get too upset to answer and wind up with a stomach ache.
These kinds of behaviors in children are often written off as “quirks” or “oddities.” Really, they may be a sign of developing OCD, which in turn can be a symptom of a larger problem.
Misrepresentations of OCD in Media
We have all seen the tropes. In the long-running comedy show Monk, the titular character suffers from a form of OCD that forces him to obsess over cleanliness and counting. In an episode of Scrubs, Michael J Fox plays a doctor who can’t stop scrubbing his hands raw.
The truth is that OCD can exhibit a number of symptoms that don’t follow by the classical clichés we are used to seeing on the screen. Some lesser-known signs your child might be suffering from this condition include:
- Signs of intense anxiety that seem triggered by specific environments or conditions, like certain classes, or social situations.
- Red, raw or dry patches of skin, including the hands, due to excessive washing or use of antibacterial products like hand sanitizer.
- A rigidness about possessions, including them being handled by or moved by others.
- A constant need for reassurance that they are following directions properly, doing well on assignments/tasks or signs of aggravation when they don’t get enough reassurance.
- Needing excessive clarification or directions for simple tasks.
- Sensory issues, such as being bothered by the feeling of a tag on their clothing.
These, along with more traditional and well-known signs, could indicate that your child is suffering from OCD.
OCD & Comorbid Conditions
If you notice some of these signs in your child, their problems might not stop with their compulsive behaviors. Certain conditions can be overlapping or even trigger the OCD in the first place. Certain forms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder are all commonly seen in combination with OCD.
Depression and other mental illness may also be an issue. Those who have, for example, Bipolar Disorder exhibiting early may see an increase in signs of OCD during manic phases. Those with depression could become obsessed with a single aspect of their lives that help them maintain a semblance of control.
Because of the complexity of the issue, getting professional help is crucial. My friend worried that he was overreacting to his son’s behavior. In his case, he was right to be concerned.
Even if your child is only going through a phase or something normal for their age, there is nothing wrong with making sure. It is better to be safe than sorry and early intervention is going to give your child a leg up on what are very manageable and treatable conditions.
National Institute of Mental Health, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/obsessive-compulsive-disorder-ocd/index.shtml
Pelini, Sanya, Psych Central, Understanding the Link Between Anxiety and Problem Behavior In Young Kids and How You Can Help, https://psychcentral.com/blog/understanding-the-link-between-anxiety-and-problem-behavior-in-young-kids-and-how-you-can-help/
Heller, Kalman, PhD, Psych Central, Sensitive Children Who Develop Significant Anxiety, https://psychcentral.com/lib/sensitive-children-who-develop-significant-anxiety/
Liahona Academy, Standing Up For Teen Anxiety, https://www.liahonaacademy.com/standing-up-for-teen-anxiety-infographic.html
Wortmann, Fletcher, Psychology Today, Why “Monk” Stunk, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/triggered/201305/why-monk-stunk