OCD and the Special Needs Student

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), according to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV (DSM-IV) can be said to be an anxiety disorder typified by invasive thoughts that produce nervousness, angst, dread, or worry by repetitive behaviors meant to diminish the anxiety, or by a combination of obsessive and compulsive behaviors meant to alleviate the dread. It is a damaging syndrome that creates disarray, chaos, and turmoil in the persons psyche requiring the repetitive behaviors to take over without regard to the effect on the entire body.

In the case of the Special needs student this can be quite challenging from the perspective of the educator. There are options for treatment, counseling and medication being the most prevalent. The issue with this and the application of treatment in a Special Needs environment is that there might not be a level of understanding about the disorder similar to those of adults. Adults, for the most part, seek relief voluntarily while the student, by virtue of age and disability, is rarely cognizant of what is going on. In the effort to aid the afflicted child, most professionals and parents might fall short of describing to the child what is going on. This can create defiance, depression, and further anxiety. With the possibility of an educator facing the task of teaching a student that might not comprehend their disability, or protest the treatment requirements of the malady, education can become cumbersome and ineffective. This leads to added effort on the part of the educator while possibly leaving other students lacking the help they need. This is where the parent can be of great assistance. Having the advantage of seeing how the child behaves at home and communicating the efforts they take to the educator, a better plan for the classroom have be formulated

As demonstrated, there are difficulties to be overcome the first of which would be to understand the symptoms. The descriptions of the symptoms in the DSM-IV are as follows:

“Obsessions are indicated by the following:

  • The person has recurrent and persistent thoughts, impulses, or images that are experienced, at some time during the disturbance, as intrusive and inappropriate and that cause marked anxiety or distress
  • The thoughts, impulses, or images are not simply excessive worries about real-life problems
  • The person attempts to ignore or suppress such thoughts, impulses, or images or to neutralize them with some other thought or action
  • The person recognizes that the obsessional thoughts, impulses, or images are a product of his or her own mind (not imposed from without as in thought insertion)

Compulsions are indicated by the following:

  • The person has repetitive behaviors (eg, hand washing, ordering, checking) or mental acts (eg, praying, counting, repeating words silently) that the person feels driven to perform in response to an obsession or according to rules that must be applied rigidly
  • The behaviors or mental acts are aimed at preventing some dreaded event or situation; however, these behaviors or mental acts either are not connected in a realistic way with what they are designed to neutralize or prevent or are clearly excessive.”

In the case of another disability being present (Mental Retardation, Speech or Language impairments, Hearing Impairments, Visual Impairments, Serious Emotional Disturbance, Physical Impairments) simultaneously with OCD the attention the student needs from the educator increases considerably. Each diagnosis requires the educator to obtain and retain knowledge of the specific disabilities, and reconcile the disabilities into a working model for the student. Consultation with parents, doctors, or counselors might aid in building and implementing an effective Individual Education Plan (IEP) for the student. Inventiveness, pliancy, kindness and patience are all key factors towards realizing successful teaching methods for a Special Needs student with OCD.

Individuals with OCD all differ in severity and the incidence of obsession and compulsion. It is imperative that the educator as well as the parent to be able to recognize the obsessions and compulsions that a student acts on, and lessons attuned to the specific need.

Effective, well thought out teaching methods are crucial to dealing with the OCD child. Here are some strategies and issues, drawn from various sources, which can be used by the educator:

  1. Maintain flexibility on due dates and completion of school work.
  2. Students with severe checking rituals, where they check their work constantly, often cannot get their work completed in a timely manner and may not even be able to complete their work.
  3. The educator should respect the physical boundaries of a student who is afraid of germs. Many OCD people who are afraid of germs, become highly agitated when touched.
  4. Shorten assignments that require a lot of handwriting.
  5. If students are working on an extended project, like a research paper, allow them to turn in components separately.
  6. Give students notes or an outline summarizing what has been covered in class each day. This may help all your students, but those with OCD will benefit because organizing materials is often difficult for them.
  7. Utilize alternate testing methods. Use multiple-choice tests or include a word bank for fill-in-the-blank questions.
  8. Recognize the need for students to perform certain ritual actions.
  9. Keep a vigilant eye; most people associate frequent hand-washing with OCD, but there are many other less-noticeable actions including silently counting to a certain number or staring without blinking for a specific time.
  10. If you see an OCD student seemingly daydreaming or talking to himself, take a closer look before you reprimand him.
  11. Always remember that the child cannot help their actions and require help from the educator
  12. Do not try to be all things to the OCD student. Incorporate and utilize regular involvement with outside agency/community cooperation that has more direct knowledge of the treatment process, and the child.

While these are some of the ideals that are useful, the list certainly does not include all of the measures an educator might utilize. Education websites abound to offer information and assistance. Keyword searches and phrase discrimination within the search engine can offer insight and better discernment then more conventional reference literature.

Applying tools to aid the OCD student can be difficult, and frustrating. Parents are in a unique place to assist the educator in the classroom. Their intimate knowledge of the child can let the educator know what to look for and what might work well as well as what might be best to avoid. Varying assignments and specific instructional direction seems to help, but the educator must always keep in mind the nature of the disorder and teach to that. This can be particularly challenging in a classroom with students experiencing differing educational disabilities. The Special Needs student will always be better off with an informed educator who uses their attained knowledge in a manner directed towards teaching with the individual disability in mind.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.