Recognizing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) at School: Tips for Teachers & Parents

How teachers can spot signs and symptoms of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in the classroom, and the important questions parents can ask them.

Girl washing hands

Obsesive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a very challenging disorder that can leave both children and their parents feeling confused, hopeless or out of control. Sometimes symptoms do not show up at school, as some children work very hard to keep it disguised due to fears of embarrassment. During periods of high demand and increased stress, however, it will become especially hard for those children to hide symptoms.

Some symptoms of OCD are very obvious and well-known, while others are not observable at all. Some are observed and are considered misbehavior. It can look like “acting out,” particularly when a symptom causes so much frustration that the child breaks rules in order to do what they feel they need to do.

OCD Behaviors To Watch Out For:

• Obsession with certain numbers, including counting, touching, saying or performing any ritual a certain number of times. This includes believing certain numbers are “magical” and avoiding certain numbers, objects, or places that are considered “unsafe”, “unlucky” or “bad” (e.g. ripping or scratching out certain pages/number items from homework and test papers).

• Rituals related to the use of desks, chairs, pages in books, lockers, supplies, etc. This includes avoiding or excessively checking any objects before using them.

• Visiting the bathroom too frequently (may involve performance of rituals related to hand washing or body waste). Also look for raw, chapped hands from constant washing.

• Hoarding and collecting things that most would throw away (e.g. garbage, wrappers, hair).

• Fear of or preoccupation with dirt, germs, illness contamination or body wastes.

• Excessive need for symmetry, order and accuracy when writing name, filling out worksheets, test papers, etc.

• Repeatedly checking homework, repeatedly checking appliances to make sure they’re off, repeatedly checking doors to make sure they’re closed/locked.

• Requesting teachers to repeat strange phrases or to keep answering the same question over and over.

• Rituals used to prevent harm to self, friends, teachers or parents.

• Noticeable distress if rituals are interrupted, prevented, questioned or forbidden.

OCD Phrases To Watch Out For:

• “I need it just in case… or “I do it just in case…”

• “If I don’t do X, then Y will happen…”

• “I have to do it” or “you can’t stop me”

• “Do this/say this X amount of times” and if interrupted or done incorrectly, “start over”

• “I can’t use that because its bad/dirty/unsafe/unlucky…”

• “It bothers me” (any thought, image, feeling or idea)

• “I can’t throw this away”

• “I have to go check it again” or “I need to re-do it”

• “I don’t know why, I just do…”

If you observe or suspect that your child is experiencing worrisome thoughts paired with rituals or odd behaviors, consult with a professional to find out if they qualify as symptoms of OCD. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is highly treatable through psychotherapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy.

*North Shore Pediatric Therapy, Inc. (NSPT) intends for responses to the blogs to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; all content and answers to questions should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).  Questions submitted to this blog are not guaranteed to receive responses.  No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by NSPT  to people submitting questions.  Always consult with your health professional first before initiating or changing any aspect of your treatment regimen.

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