Recognizing OCD at School: Introduction

Recognizing OCD at School

While frustrating to educators, OCD may be torture for the students who have it.  In order to help a student who has OCD, educators must understand that OCD is frequently responsible for the student’s difficulties.  In this section, school personnel can learn how to recognize behavior at school that may be caused by OCD.

OCD is sometimes difficult to identify because the observable symptoms can be similar to symptoms of other conditions and mental disorders.  In certain cases, symptoms cannot be observed (e.g., mental rituals).  In addition, OCD symptoms in children and adolescents can change over time.  Moreover, symptoms of OCD tend to wax and wane -- they worsen and then improve frequently for no apparent reason.  It’s important for school personnel to have a good understanding of the variety of behaviors that may be signs of OCD to initiate a plan to assist the student.

Learn more about OCD symptoms and behavior that may indicate OCD at school.

The Effect of OCD on Academic Performance

A student who has untreated OCD is likely to have a very difficult time concentrating in the classroom and completing homework assignments.  Children with OCD may experience extreme anxiety or strong urges which, at times, actually overwhelm them.  Children and teens might describe the feeling of mounting anxiety or intensifying urges as if they were a rising volcano or a tea kettle about to boil -- and relief comes only when the pressure is released.  Unfortunately, the release is usually a compulsive behavior that may be extremely disruptive to the student’s learning, and possibly to the classroom.

Although students with OCD typically have average to above average intelligence levels, they may be unable to learn the same way a typical child or adolescent does.  The focus of students with this disorder is frequently on their obsessions or compulsions instead of the task at hand (in school or at home).  And although they want to be like other students -- paying attention in class, participating in discussions or presentations, and studying or doing homework assignments -- they feel compelled to respond to the obsessions or urges caused by the OCD.  As a result, a tremendous amount of their energy and focus is sapped by OCD messages bombarding their minds and by the need to perform compulsions.  When the teacher is talking, the student with OCD may barely hear what is being said because of fears and doubts running through his or her mind.

Learn more about how OCD can derail a student’s ability to learn.

The Effect of OCD on Social Interactions

OCD not only can adversely affect academic performance, but can also have devastating effects on a young person’s ability to interact appropriately with others.  Opportunities for friendships and fun can be lost and self-esteem can be negatively impacted.  Youth is a critical time for developing social skills and relationships, and OCD can be a roadblock to important developmental progress.

In some cases, students with OCD exhibit no symptoms at school, but at home are plagued with worries or intrusive thoughts and rituals which can derail normal activities such as studying or completing homework assignments, playing with other children and maintaining a balanced relationship with family members.

For these reasons, it’s important that all school personnel take OCD seriously and work with the student and the family to provide support.

Learn more about the effect of OCD on a student’s social development and self-esteem.

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