OCD at School

Lots of kids do things over and over again at school. For example, you or your friends may step on all the black squares on the floor, but not on the white squares. Maybe you try to touch every pillar in the hallway as you walk by. Or, maybe you and your friends hop, skip, or jump as you walk. For most kids, this is just another way to play. Kids with OCD, however, do this for a different reason.

If you have OCD, doing things over and over again at school is NOT fun. It bothers you a lot, and you don’t want to do it, but you feel like you have to. Sometimes you even know it’s silly and you may be embarrassed and try to hide it because you don’t want others to notice or tease you. Sometimes it works, and you can hide it pretty well so no one knows. That takes a lot of your energy, so you are probably very tired and cranky by the time you get home.

How others might react

Sometimes, you might get teased. Kids may say, “Hurry up, slow poke! How come you’re always the last to get done? Why do you keep touching your shoes? You’re weird! Why do you keep erasing your work? Your paper is full of holes!”

Even your friends may treat you differently. You might feel sad that no one understands, and you can’t even explain to others why you need to do these things.

Your teacher may think you are being annoying or just not listening, and may ask you to stop. That gets you really upset, because if you don’t finish your ritual, OCD tells you that something bad will happen. Or maybe it just won’t feel “right,” and that feeling will bother you a lot. When you can’t stop, you may get in trouble for it.

Sometimes, trying to take care of all the worries in your mind and performing your rituals can take a lot of your time and attention. You might stop noticing what the teacher is saying or what you are supposed to do because you have to spend a lot of time thinking about your OCD worries and how to do all your rituals. You can’t pay attention, and you can’t get your schoolwork or homework done on time. Or, you make a lot of mistakes because you don’t know what the teacher taught, turn in work that looks messy and careless, or get worse grades.

There are many different ways in which OCD may bother you in school. Take a look at this list and check off the ones that are true for you.

I feel like I have to:

☐ Be very neat, line up, or arrange things on my desk, in my backpack, or in my locker
☐ Check my desk, backpack, locker, or lunch bag again and again so I don’t forget something
☐ Finish my work perfectly so I check it and do it again if it’s not
☐ Erase things I write over and over because it doesn’t look right
☐ Read letters, words, or sentences until they sound right
☐ Do everything slowly so I do it right
☐ Ask the teacher a lot of questions because I want to be sure I am doing everything right
☐ Do things over again if I am interrupted before I finish
☐ Go to the bathroom a lot to wash my hands and get the germs off
☐ Go to the bathroom a lot because I keep feeling like I have to go, even though I just went
☐ Not touch things that other kids have touched, like the ball in gym, or share pencils
☐ Clean off my stuff if others touch it
☐ Not use my things if others touch them until they are cleaned or washed
☐ Use my elbows or shirt to open doors so I don’t get germs on my hands
☐ Count or repeat numbers over and over in my head
☐ Walk through doors exactly the same way each time
☐ Touch things in the classroom or hallway exactly the same way each time
☐ Bump into something again or on the other side of my body to make it feel equal
☐ Tap my fingers or pencil on the desk in a certain way

Other things that sometimes happen because of OCD:

☐ Feeling frustrated or angry when someone tries to stop me from doing things the way I need to
☐ Not getting my work done on time so I get an “incomplete”
☐ Not getting to school on time because I need time to finish my rituals at home
☐ Messy work
☐ Sometimes, not wanting to go to school at all
☐ Getting upset when others touch my things and I have to clean or wipe them off
☐ Disliking changes in routine or new things
☐ Feeling like I need to hide my OCD from everyone

Getting Help

If many things on this list apply to you, show the list to your parents and talk to them about it so they can see how much OCD gets in your way at school. They can then figure out how to get the right help for you from a therapist who specializes in OCD.

A therapist can work with you on exercises that can help reduce your anxiety at school and come up with a plan for you to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

If your parents aren’t sure how to help you, you can show them this website and ask them to read more about OCD and use the Find Help tool in the sidebar on the right to find a doctor or therapist near you who knows more about OCD and who can help.

The IOCDF's Anxiety in the Classroom website also provides resources for teachers, parents, and families to manage OCD and anxiety in the school setting.

by Aureen Pinto Wagner, PhD