Researchers at Brown University in Rhode Island are reporting that children as young as four can meet criteria for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This condition, associated with anxiety, has been studied in older children and adolescents, but this new study was the largest ever study of OCD in preschool age.
“OCD, if left untreated, can significantly disrupt a child’s growth and development and can worsen as the child gets older,” said Abbe Garcia, PhD, director of the Bradley Hasbro Children’s Research Center (BHCRC) Pediatric Anxiety Research Clinic at Brown, and chief author of the new study. “[E]arly diagnosis and intervention are critical to reducing the severity of symptoms and improving quality of life.”
People are said to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder when they have repeated, intrusive thoughts which bring fear or anxiety, and they feel compelled to carry out repeated actions in order to manage that anxiety or to avoid imagined harm. Children with OCD can have tremendous difficulty socially, in school, and even at home, as their eccentric behaviors may frustrate well-meaning family members.
The Brown study included 58 children, boys and girls, aged four to eight. Ten had been treated with medication and 13 had received psychotherapy. About two in five was also diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Fear of contamination and violent themes involving harm to themselves or their families were common obsessive thoughts in the study. Most children had several obsessions and compulsions, including washing, “checking” (doors, people, objects, etc.), and repeating (words or actions). OCD is treatable, and non-medical interventions have shown some success. Medications can be helpful in more severe cases. Helping children healthily manage stress is key.
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