Obsessive Compulsive Disorder in School

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), can have an impact on every aspect of a child's life, including school. If symptoms of OCD are severe, the student may be eligible for an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) to provide accommodations in school.




    Symptoms of OCD can be difficult to spot because they can vary so much from child to child and because children often go to great lengths to hide symptoms from other children and the adults in their life.  Teachers are not able to diagnose OCD but can be instumental in helping a child cope.

    Symptoms can appear in many different ways. The list below provides just a few ideas that parents and teachers can look for:

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    • Repeatedly washing hands, becoming upset if not able to wash hands of if antibacterial lotion is not available
    • Keeping desk and locker clean and protecting this space from other children, becoming agitated if others touch or place their belongings in the "clean" space
    • Avoiding contact with other students or touching common objects or using common areas, such as bathrooms or lunch rooms
    • Excessive worrying about being sick or dirty
    • Asking for reassurance about safety
    • Needing items to be lined up in a certain order
    • Overly concerned with symmetry. Needs to make all piles even, with edges straight
    • Reorganizes materials, such as putting in alphabetical order, by color, by shape, etc.
    • Worried about leaving the safety of a classroom or avoidance of going to certain areas because they are "unsafe"
    • Attaching significance to a certain number, for example, having to repeat the teachers name three times before asking a question or counting the steps it takes to move from classroom to classroom
    • Avoiding using certain unlucky numbers. Visible agitation if called on to read from a certain page, such as page 13 (could be any number) or refusing to answer problem # 13.
    • Having to repeat a behavior a certain number of times before moving on to next task.
    • Saving every piece or scrap of paper because of fear she will lose something important
    • Avoiding throwing anything away
    • Having difficulty if sharing is required, such as sharing a book.
    • Excessive fear of breaking the rules
    • Follows rigid moral code
    • Asking for reassurance repeatedly that a task was completed satisfactory
    • Checks backpack continuously to make sure he has all books to bring home
    • Checking contents of desk or locker
    • Erases written work and rewrites until it looks right
    • Doesn't finish tests or assignments because she needs to fill in circles, line up words or make handwriting perfect.

    What Parents and Teachers Can Do

    Children with OCD frequently try to hide symptoms because they are embarrassed. The rituals and compulsions make them feel "different" from classmates or other students may make ridicule the rituals a chid goes through to alleviate obsessions.

    Parents should work closely with teachers and school districts to provide a safe, nurturing environment for a child to learn. Depending on the level of symptoms, a child may benefit from having an IEP or Section 504 that provides accommodations to help cope with some of the symptoms. Some of the things schools can offer are:

    • Not disciplining a child repeatedly for classroom disruptions due to OCD
    • Providing books to be used only by the child
    • Reducing assignments for children that have a hard time completing due to the need for perfectionism
    • Not penalizing tardiness
    • Providing a place to eat lunch where the child feels secure

    Because Section 504 Plans and IEPs are individual to the specific needs of the child, you may have additional ideas and suggestions for your school to implement. School personnel may have previously found accommodations that helped children with OCD to implement for your child.


    "OCD at School", 2010, Author Unknown, OCD Chicago,
    "OCD in Children and Teens", 2010, S. Evelyn Stewart, M.D., International OCD Foundation

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    "What Does OCD Look Like at School?", 2010, Author Unknown, OCD Education Station


Published On: August 10, 2010