Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an often misunderstood and complicated illness. It can latch on to anything that is important to us, and has the potential to totally devastate lives.
Still, so many people believe it is nothing more than excessive hand washing and the desire to keep things tidy. This could not be further from the truth. For the purpose of this post, I’ll be referring specifically to OCD in children.
When OCD makes an appearance in a family, it often brings about fear and confusion. For one thing, obsessive-compulsive disorder manifests itself differently in everyone. Truly, there is no end to the ways it can present itself in addition to the stereotypical compulsions mentioned above. A few examples include eating issues, refusal to leave the house, irrational fears of certain people, places, or things, and the inability to complete previously easy homework assignments. You name it, it just might be OCD.
Which leads us to the next issue that faces parents of children with OCD — getting a proper diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is common, which of course leads to the wrong treatment. Even when OCD is properly diagnosed, the right therapy, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is often elusive. What’s a family to do?
For those lucky enough to receive a proper diagnosis and referral to good treatment, you’d think the children would be on their way to recovery. However, that is not always the case – I’m hearing from more people than ever who are in this situation. While various forms of intensive treatment (intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization programs, or residential treatment centers) are often recommended for their child, many parents are concerned that a commitment to intensive treatment will disrupt their child’s life. For example, Kate loves dance and she’ll miss some classes and the recital, Jake will miss a good chunk of fourth grade if he does a particular ERP program, and Ashley will miss a few social events and have to tell her friends what’s going on (or lie).*
Obviously, the children discussed in the above paragraph are not totally debilitated by OCD. Not yet, anyway. And it very well could be that they are balking at the idea of treatment. For children who can’t leave the house, or are not able to function to any extent in their daily lives, the decision to seek treatment is typically easier — they have already hit bottom. But many parents of children who are teetering on the edge don’t seem to want to take away the few things that still make their children happy, or “normal.”
As an advocate for OCD awareness and proper treatment for over ten years, I cannot stress the importance of getting the right help for obsessive-compulsive disorder sooner rather than later. OCD rarely gets better on its own, and once entrenched, is harder to treat. So, for all those out there who might be in this situation, please get your child the right help as soon as possible. Friends and activities will come and go. Even missing a significant amount of time in school can be made up. But a child who grows into a young adult with untreated OCD might very well be so disabled by the disorder that he or she can’t even hold down an entry-level job. Getting good treatment now will free your child from the grips of OCD and allow him or her to go on to have a wonderful life.
*These are not their real names.