Does Your Child Have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Worries and doubts are part of normal everyday life. However, when these concerns affect normal functioning, it is a sign that there might be a greater problem.

Modern psychiatry classifies Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) as one of the Anxiety disorders. Currently, 1 in 200 children and adolescents in the United States has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Fortunately, there is a lot that you as a parent can do to help your child.


Obsessions are persistent and recurrent impulses, thoughts, or images that are unwanted and cause distress. These are usually irrational and are not the normal products of daily living. Compulsions are repetitive actions, like washing hands or hoarding things, or mental actions, like counting or repeating words silently. As the name implies Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is characterized by both.

Typically, the person is plagued by repetitive thoughts, images, or impulses that are disturbing, illogical, and out of the person's control. In an attempt to make these obsessions go away the person develops and performs compulsively a set of actions to relieve the discomfort caused by the obsessions.

For example, a person who is obsessed with sickness may develop compulsive hand washing. A person who is obsessed with fear of fire might continually check to make sure that the stove is off. The person gets no pleasure from doing these actions. Rather they provide temporary relieve from his unpleasant thoughts. The person may spend hours over the course of the day doing compulsive actions to relieve his obsessive thoughts.

At some point, most people realize that the anxieties are only a product of their own minds and have nothing to do with reality. However, they are unable to control the thoughts or the behaviors.


Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder can start as early as preschool age. The way OCD shows itself in a child will vary with the child's age. A younger child may have anxiety that harm will come to him or a family member. He may repeatedly check to see if the doors of his house are locked.

An older child may be afraid of germs and that his food is poisoned or that he will get AIDS. He may constantly wash his hands or food. The child may even know and can verbalize that it doesn't make sense. However, the compulsive behavior is beyond his control.


Children with OCD frequently don't feel well physically. This may be because of the stress their anxieties cause or it may be due to lack of sleep or poor nutrition. These children often have stress related disorders such as headaches or stomach upset.

Frequently, children are angry with their parents. This usually occurs when the parents are unable to comply with their child's behavioral quirks. These children usually have trouble keeping friends because of their behaviors make them stand out. These children often suffer from poor self-esteem.


To receive the classic the diagnosis of OCD a person must have obsession and/or compulsions that cause the person anxiety or distress and cannot be attributed to another cause, such as substance abuse. The obsessions or compulsions cause a lot of distress and interfere with normal living.

The diagnosis usually goes unrecognized for a very long time. Studies show that most people don't receive the diagnosis of OCD until 9 years after the symptoms first appear. It may take an addition 8 years before they receive adequate treatment. The reason for this is two fold. Most patients are embarrassed by their condition, so they avoid telling anybody. Secondly, many doctors are not familiar with the condition, so that they are not quick to recognize it nor do they know how to treat it.


The current research indicates that OCD is a neurologically based brain disorder. Studies show that there seems to be a communication problem between the frontal lobes of the brain and the brain's deeper structures. These areas of the brain use the neurotransmitter, serotonin to communicate. People with OCD have lower levels of serotonin in these areas of the brain. Drugs that increase the brain serotonin levels also improve OCD.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder has also been linked to strep infections. Recently, a study was done giving OCD patients anti-strep antibodies. Patients showed a significant improvement in their OCD symptoms.

Related Disorders

Children with OCD commonly have other psychiatric problems. Below is a list of psychiatric conditions that frequently occur along with OCD: