Dealing With Ocd in the Classroom
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a debilitating disorder in which individuals use compulsive behaviors to allay their anxieties over their fears of their obsessions. Obsessions generally revolve around germs, sexuality, fear of harming someone, and fear of losing control.
OCD is a time-consuming psychiatric disorder that causes distress to the people experiencing them and interfering with a persons normal life activities.
Children and adults may realize that their behaviors and fears are unreasonable but they cant stop them. Symptoms vary over time and treatments include both psychotherapy (talk therapy) and medications.
School teachers, the student and peers are dealing with OCD in the classroom. Children with OCD usually find more success in a structured and calm classroom where there are clear and stated expectations.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health there are 3 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 54 who suffer from OCD. And according to the Child Development Institute OCD also typically develops during adolescence.
OCD has a major impact on learning as demonstrated by these statistics: 48% of students who experience OCD need remedial help, 40% are in special classes and 7% repeat a grade.
Some of the more common learning problems that students with OCD experience are inefficiency in communication, failure to consider the needs of the listener, difficulty expressing their emotions, verbal inattention, difficulty following directions, problems interpreting figurative language cues, impulsivity, poor self-monitoring, inattention to details, and tracking problems.
Functionally these difficulties equate to students who are inattentive in class or easily distracted, students who are highly anxious, compulsive, and who have difficulty with tests, assignments and social challenges.
Researchers are now exploring teaching strategies currently used for children with ADD, Tourette Syndrome and Asperger Syndrome. Children with these disorders have some of the same symptoms as those with OCD. Based on the literature there are a number of strategies including well-planned seating arrangements, assistance with socialization, frequent breaks and testing and assignment accommodations.
Dealing with OCD in the classroom requires some finesse and ability to be flexible. Here are a few accommodations that will help to make the life of the student, their peers and the teacher much easier:
Allow the student more time to complete their tasks and tests. Tests might require extra time or an alternate location, breaks during a test or allowing the student to write directly in the book. Other students will do better when they are able to take their tests orally.
Some students have problems with writing rituals. These rituals can make taking tests using Scantron forms a real problem each circle must be filled perfectly. Consider having them circle their answers or writing directly in the test booklet. Writing rituals may also make taking notes difficult for students when each i must be dotted identically or other letters have similar requirements. The student may need to tape the lecture and teachers can arrange to provide the student with a written hard copy of the lecture notes.
Some students have compulsive reading rituals and intrusive thoughts. These problems may require the student to use books on tape or to have someone else read aloud to them. This may make an older student feel frustrated and demoralized.
If there are perfectionistic traits they may stay up all night reworking an essay or paper. Find out from the parents if this is happening at home so the teacher doesn’t inadvertently perpetuate the problem by complementing the student on their perfect paper. Students and teachers can work through a contract on the number of times a paper can be rewritten or reworked.
Teachers should be alert to peer problems, teasing, or ha1rassments associated with the compulsive rituals. If the student is being ridiculed for their rituals or fears teachers and the school might consider a peer education program appropriate for the age of the child.
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