Recognizing OCD at School
by Aureen Pinto Wagner, Ph.D.
School-aged children often have rituals that are normal and playful, which can make it harder to spot OCD rituals. Further, youngsters with OCD often hide their OCD rituals in school because they are embarrassed about them. They do not want peers or teachers to notice their odd or unusual behaviors. Unlike normal rituals, OCD rituals tend to be extreme, unusual or bizarre, and upsetting to the child. The child feels forced to do them, gets very upset when interrupted, and feels out of control. They also interfere with the child’s functioning at school.
The behaviors described below may be clues to OCD. However, none of them suggest a definite diagnosis of OCD by themselves. A youngster who shows these behaviors for over a month may need to be evaluated by a qualified mental health professional.
- Over-focus on neatness. Lining up, ordering or arranging items on desks, in backpacks or lockers repeatedly.
- Wanting to complete assignments “perfectly,” checking and re-doing it.
- Sloppiness or carelessness in completing assignments, which is not typical for the child.
- Erasing repeatedly until the paper has holes in it, the ink is smudged and the writing or drawing is illegible.
- Reading letters, words or sentences repeatedly, repeating syllables until they sound right.
- Filling in scantron sheets very carefully; getting upset if they are not perfectly filled in.
- Very slow and deliberate work, resulting in incomplete assignments.
- Incomplete assignments or homework, although the child is capable of doing them
- Checking homework, backpack, lockers, pockets, or under the desk and chair repeatedly, ensuring that locks and zippers are fastened.
- Frustration or anger when things are disorganized, when interrupted, or when routines change unexpectedly.
- Refusal to go to school, or being late regularly due to need to complete rituals at home.
- Asking the teacher or other students the same questions repeatedly, even though the child knows the answer
- Frequent trips to the bathroom, either to use the toilet or wash hands
- Sore, chapped or bleeding hands.
- Refusing to touch others’ books, pencils, touch the ball in gym etc.
- Getting upset if others touch his or her belongings, wanting to clean or wipe them off.
- Counting or focus on lucky and unlucky numbers.
- Sudden avoidance of familiar things or reluctance to try new things
- Odd behaviors such as walking in specific patterns through doorways, counting tiles or syllables, touching or tapping in symmetry or sitting and standing repeatedly
- Opening doors, lockers, desks, or books with elbows or with tissue in hand, holding hands in the air to avoid physical contact, refusal to shake hands or share pencils or other supplies.
- Secretive or unusual behaviors for which there is no obvious explanation.