Thursday, August 16, 2012

Help! My Foster Child Has OCD!

By John and Diane.

Childhood Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a complex disorder that can start in children as young as 2 years old. An anxiety disorder with components including obsessive thoughts and actions and compulsive thoughts and actions, it affects boys and girls from any walk of life, which may and often does include children in the foster care system.

Statistically affecting more boys than girls and increasing in puberty, symptoms can decrease after adolescence. The cause for the disorder can be anything from brain injury, strep throat or a genetic link (inherited.)

 Unlike a lot of issues that foster children suffer from, OCD is not thought to have been brought on by trauma. It is estimated that over a million children in the US have the disorder, even though children are very good at hiding the symptoms.

Characterized by the obsessive thought process, the child may indicate the obsession by repeating a phrase to control the thought or repeating a movement, a compulsion or activity, to respond to the obsessive thought process.

Children may also have rigid rules to do certain things, or must do things in defined sequences that may have, for them, severe consequences when done out of order.

Children with OCD are hyper-responsible, taking responsibility for everyone and everything around them. Foster children may talk about their personal history and take on the responsibility for their circumstances or the family dynamics even though the reality of the situation is not their fault.

Although caring for a foster child with OCD is difficult under the best of circumstances, a common obsession for OCD children makes it even harder. Thoughts of the child being harmed or harming others is a common obsessive thought. Children with OCD even worry that they may hug you too tightly and may kill you.

Hoarding, psychosomatic illness, over-grooming, self-mutilation, self-doubting, the list goes on and on of symptoms and issues a foster parent must deal with depending on the severity of the OCD disorder for the child.

How to Deal with it

 Although medication and counseling can help a child deal with his diagnosis, acceptance and allowances by family members in the foster care home can go a long way. When the behaviors are approached with a positive, accepting attitude, the child’s obsessive thoughts can diminish and the behaviors will lessen or stop.  

Negative attitudes or discussions about the behaviors as “bad” or “trouble” only exacerbate the issue and increase the anxiety for the foster child, which will reinforce the obsessive compulsive behaviors and may create new ones. When you embrace the child’s “idiosyncrasies” and work with him or her in a positive way you can gently provide a safe environment to display the behaviors and slowly work on reducing the anxieties that cause the obsessive thoughts and triggers. 

Make sure that the other children and caregivers in the home understand and support the child and the approach so that the whole household can work towards a common goal.  Although it may feel like an impossible task, I have used this approach with some of my foster kids whose diagnosis has included OCD and behaviors have diminished and within a year and a half have nearly, completely disappeared.

 Image: Flickr: License
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  1. I have never had a child with OCD so I am not very familiar with it. Thanks for the information and for stopping by True Aim! I am a new follower. :)

  2. Children having serious illnesses should be send to an expert doctor so that remedies can be applied and further complications can be prevented. Its sad to hear that the child you are fostering is facing struggles at an early age. finds and rescues