How Perfectionism and Procrastination Sabotage School Success

A common learning problem associated with a child with OCD and those with sub-clinical cases of OCD relates to perfectionism: The need to reach an unobtainable state of perfection in school assignments. A need for certainty and a fear that he cannot achieve the perfection he craves can keep your child from even starting an assignment.

Rather than begin, he procrastinates, doing his best to avoid facing this inevitable wall of uncertainty. To a teacher, these stalling and avoiding behaviors can look like simple disorganization, daydreaming, disinterest, or resistance. Once he does get started, the student with OCD often feels compelled to erase and re-do, re-read, and re-compute everything he does. After completing the work, he will often throw it away and start over from scratch.

Beyond the emotional and academic toll it takes on affected students, these OCD tendencies toward perfectionism and procrastination put a great strain on teachers. When a child repeatedly seeks reassurance by asking the same questions over and over, or when he refuses to move on in his classroom work, his behavior can negatively impact the entire class and disrupt a teacher's schedule.

If a teacher is not familiar with the symptoms of OCD, she may incorrectly assume that your child is simply incapable of completing the work at his grade level. Or, she may alternately conclude — mistakenly — that his behavior is willfully disruptive and defiant then decide he's in need of detention or some other negative consequence to deter him from such behavior in the future.

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