If You Suspect OCD

As you become more convinced that OCD symptoms are present in your child, you may fear that you'll upset him by asking questions about the suspect behaviors or by suggesting a visit to the doctor for testing. What parents discover is that the opposite is often true. Their children, who may have thought for months or years that they were the only ones with such strange thoughts or behaviors, are relieved to find out that other young people have been in the same boat, and, most important, that they've found a way out.

OCD is an anxiety disorder with discernable symptoms within a broad spectrum of severity, from mild to severe. Yet several things about OCD can make it hard to pin down.

First, its symptoms can come and go for weeks and months at a time. The intermittent appearance of symptoms may lead you to believe that your child's unusual behavior is simply a phase, now past. If her obsessions change, manifesting as different compulsive behaviors — such as changing from a need to wash repeatedly to a new pickiness about food — it may take you some time to process this new data and connect the dots between her symptoms.

Because OCD tends to occur in families, behaviors that might represent the norm in your household may in fact represent subclinical symptoms of OCD. When and if these behaviors start to occur more frequently or to a more severe degree, there is a danger that they may be more easily accepted or overlooked in your family than they would in another household where mild OCD is not present.

Essential

Don't focus on the content of your child's obsessions. Don't debate the logic of an obsession. Do focus on his process, and how he's feeling before, during, and after his OCD symptoms appear. High levels of anxiety before and after the performance of repetitive behaviors are clear indications of the presence of OCD.

Less Obvious Signs of OCD

Parents should be on the lookout for any of the following less obvious warning signs of OCD:

  • A dramatic increase in laundry

  • High, unexplained utility bills

  • Repetitive questions

  • An exceptionally long time spent getting ready for bed

  • Constant checks on the health or safety of other family members

  • A persistent fear of illness

  • If you see these behaviors in your child, it is time to begin monitoring how often you see them over how many days, weeks, or months. Along with this quantitative measure, pay special attention to his emotional temperature before, during, and after you notice the physical signs or observe him carrying out the new behaviors.

  • Do you notice a spike in his anxiety level before meals or bedtime?

  • How often is he concerned about your safety when there is no apparent cause for alarm?

  • As you gather this data, first casually, then, if need be, in the form of a written symptom log, you may begin to see patterns that suggest closer monitoring and testing are in order.

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