Helping Teachers Understand OCD



Another school-related post as a new academic year approaches……..

I’ve previously written about how important and necessary I believe it is for educators to have, at the very least, a basic knowledge of OCD and other brain disorders. The Child Mind Institute is an excellent resource about OCD for teachers (and parents as well). Now that most children are heading back to school, some anticipated as well as unanticipated issues or concerns might arise. If this is the case in your family, I highly recommend checking out these links, and even sharing them with the appropriate school personnel:

A Teacher’s Guide to Understanding OCD

What Does OCD Look Like in the Classroom?

A Teacher’s Guide to Helping Kids with OCD

It’s hard enough for children with OCD to have to deal with school and their disorder without being misunderstood by their teachers. I think the above articles are good stepping stones toward getting young people with OCD the support and understanding they deserve. I also hope to speak at schools this fall to help spread the word about what OCD looks like in the classroom. The more we can educate others about OCD, the better off we will all be!



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Back to School with OCD

school girls

It’s that time of year again!  For the next two weeks I will be sharing some of my posts related to OCD and school….

I’ve previously written about taking obsessive-compulsive disorder to college, where I focused on establishing a good support system for those with OCD who are embarking on this exciting, but often anxiety-provoking journey. I discussed how important communication is with all school personnel, from the dean of students to teachers. The more support the better.

But what happens when the support you deserve, and are entitled to, is not afforded you? What if one of your teachers thinks OCD is no big deal, or not a real illness? How do you deal with a situation like that?

My son Dan, in his senior year of college, was discriminated against because of his OCD. I know discriminate is a strong word, but it fits. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), college students with documented disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations. While offering wheelchair ramps for those who can’t walk is an obvious compliance, accommodations for other issues, such as OCD, are not as clear-cut. Unfortunately, there are still many college professionals who know little, or have misconceptions, about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Students themselves might not know what they need until after the fact. Indeed, the complexity of the disorder can make the establishment of accommodations difficult. The Academic Resource Coordinator at Dan’s school, the expert who dealt with students with disabilities, “wasn’t sure” if Dan’s issue of concentrating more on details than the big picture was related to his OCD.

The best advice I can offer if you find yourself in a similar situation is to know your rights. Read up on the ADA and stand firm. Support, as well as documentation in writing, from a therapist or psychiatrist (preferably your own), can be invaluable. While college is typically a time of reduced parental involvement, I am convinced that if my husband and I hadn’t joined in Dan’s fight, the outcome would not have been in his favor. We had to bring our son’s case all the way to the president of his college, but he ultimately got what he deserved: fair treatment.

Because Dan’s OCD wasn’t diagnosed until he was seventeen (and because we homeschooled), our family never dealt with the need for accommodations during the K-12 school years. Again it’s important to know your rights and options. Laws and plans are in place, particularly for schools that receive federal funding (this includes all public schools). So many school professionals simply do not understand OCD. Until this changes, it is up to us to educate them. This is just one of the many reasons why parents need to be well prepared to advocate for their child.

Whether you’re sending your child off to kindergarten or college, this exciting time can also be stressful.  Add obsessive-compulsive disorder to the equation and chances are you’re also adding an extra layer of anxiety. That’s understandable. I do think, however, that it’s important for parents to remain positive and convey an air of confidence that everything will work out just fine. Because it probably will. But if problems do arise, we need to let our children know, no matter what their age is, that we will be there to support them, advocate for them, and love them every step of the way as they navigate their educational journey.

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Another Successful OCD Conference!

Professional Front


Well I’m back from the 22nd Annual OCD Conference in Boston, and by all accounts (including mine) it was a great success! Attendance was at an all-time high with around 1,700 participants and it really was an amazing feeling to be surrounded by so many others whose lives have been touched in some way by obsessive-compulsive disorder. My reflections on the last IOCDF Conference I attended all hold true for this one as well, though certainly each conference has its own highlights. For me personally, this year’s most memorable events include:

My book signing….I had the honor of meeting some wonderful people who I previously had not known, or had only known “virtually.” Their dedication to fighting their own OCD, or helping others battle the disorder, inspires me and motivates me to keep advocating for OCD awareness and proper treatment.

Some of the conference presentations I attended…. Jon Hershfield, Jeff Bell, and Jonathan Grayson were not only informative but immensely entertaining, and the valuable presentation by Alison Dotson was heartfelt and brave. The keynote speakers, Clint and Joanie Malarchuk, mesmerized the audience for an hour and a half as they detailed their journey through so many hardships, including Clint’s OCD. Their presentation ended with a much-deserved standing ovation.

The average age of attendees….It’s getting younger and younger, which is great! Not only are children and teenagers getting diagnosed at younger ages, they are fighting their OCD sooner as well. Kudos to the conference committee for offering so many outstanding sessions and programs for young people.

The establishment of an IOCDF Advocacy Program…. Jeff Bell announced the creation of this program which we will learn more about in the months to come. Anyone who wants to can participate!

While it’s easy to give you my personal overview of the conference, it’s more difficult to convey the feelings of camaraderie, warmth, and hope that envelop me at every OCD conference I’ve ever attended. If you haven’t already, I hope you get the chance to experience these feelings yourself.

Next year in Chicago!


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OCD and Vulnerability



I’m still at the OCD Conference, so I think it’s an appropriate time to share this older post of mine which touches upon our need to connect with one another……

I recently came across two wonderful TED Talks given by Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent much of her career researching shame and vulnerability. She is a great speaker, and I highly recommend listening to what she has to say.

Dr. Brown talks about our need, as humans, to “be connected” to one another. That’s really what it’s all about. In order for these connections to happen, we have to first believe that we are worthy of belonging, of being loved. We have to embrace our imperfections and let go of shame. Dr. Brown eloquently expands on this topic here.

Also, if our quest to “be connected” is going to be successful, we have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable; be able to “put ourselves out there.”

In other words, we have to embrace living with uncertainty.

Once again, I am reminded how many of the challenges faced by those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are the same that we all confront. It is the severity of the struggle that differs. Who among us could not relate to feeling vulnerable?

Dr. Brown explains that, as a society, we tend to do everything we can to avoid feeling vulnerable. She says, “We numb vulnerability…we are the most in debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in US history.” We mask our vulnerability and see it as a shameful weakness.

Really though, being vulnerable is not about being weak. It is exactly the opposite. It is about having courage; the courage to fail, the courage to forge ahead into the realm of uncertainty. It is about taking a risk and exposing yourself to whatever might be. While being vulnerable can be difficult for all of us, it can evoke paralyzing fear in those with OCD.

But if we can learn to embrace our vulnerability, then we will be able to live “wholeheartedly.” What this means to Dr. Brown is not numbing our vulnerability, but feeling what we feel. Whether it is despair, fear, or hopefully joy and gratitude, there will be no more secrecy or pretending.

For those with OCD, this path to wholeheartedness likely involves exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. To me, this therapy is the epitome of vulnerableness (yes, it’s a word :) ). ERP therapy takes courage and resolve, but by engaging in it, those with OCD are working toward what they deserve: a life of authenticity filled with whatever “connections” they desire. Because as Dr. Brown says, that’s what it’s all about.

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IOCDF Conference – 2015

planeSafe travels to all who are headed to the 22nd Annual International OCD Conference in Boston this weekend.

I’ll be signing books on Friday from 12:30-1:30 if you want to stop by. If not, I hope to connect with many of you throughout the conference.

And for those who are not able to attend, I’ll be sure to blog about it once I return.

Have a great weekend everyone!

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OCD and Medical Child Abuse

stock images from

stock images from

If you’ve read my book, you know that many issues arose when my son Dan spent nine weeks at a residential treatment center for OCD. There’s no question the staff there knew how to treat OCD. What they didn’t know, and what they couldn’t know, was my son: his hopes, his dreams, his values, HIM. Instead of working together with the staff to figure out the best course of action for Dan, my husband and I felt not only shut out, but also viewed as part of the problem.

So when Dr. Suzanne Phillips, who recently interviewed me and Seth about our book,  sent me a New York Times article entitled The New Child Abuse Panic, I broke out in a sweat as I read it. This could have been us.

I highly recommend reading this important article, which discusses how parents are increasingly being charged with “medical child abuse.” The author, Maxine Eichner, says:

 Although most of these cases have nothing to do with real child abuse, credulous child welfare officials have too often supported the doctors, threatened parents with loss of custody, and even removed kids from their homes — simply because the parents disagreed with the doctor’s plan of care.

The most widely publicized case, which is discussed in The New York Times article, involved that of Justina Pelletier, a teenager who was being treated for mitochondrial disease. Her parents lost custody of her and she was forcibly removed from her home for sixteen months because some doctors disagreed with the diagnosis, which was later confirmed. I remember hearing her story on the news a couple of years ago, and thought I must have misunderstood it. Taken away from her family because some doctors disagreed with care she was receiving from other doctors? It made no sense. But it was true, and it is even more of an issue now. It is a scary situation for parents and caregivers.

So what do we do? In relation to obsessive-compulsive disorder, I think education continues to be the key. Many people still believe OCD is only about germs, hand-washing, and rigidity. As most of us know, in actuality there is no limit to the ways OCD can present itself. We shouldn’t have to convince professionals that fear of hurting a loved one, fear of offending God, fear of taking a test, or avoidance of just about anything, are just a few of the countless symptoms of OCD.

As parents and caregivers, we need to educate ourselves and others. We need to treat medical professionals with respect and expect the same in return. If we ever feel threatened in any way, we need to seek out appropriate support immediately. We need to realize that while there are many caring, qualified professionals out there, there are also those who are misguided. And as I’ve said before, nobody knows our loved ones, cares about them, or wants them to get well, more than we do. That alone is reason enough to be heard.

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OCD and Sleep

SleepingThis post was written in December 2012:

Like a lot of people, I deal with bouts of insomnia every now and then, and so I know firsthand what a lack of sleep can do to a person. I often end up with a headache and sore throat, am irritable, easily stressed, and have trouble thinking clearly. And, of course, I’m exhausted.

It seems to me that a lot of people with OCD have sleep issues. I know when my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he often roamed the house all hours of the night, and when he finally slept, it was rarely in his own bed. I’d often find him on a couch in the morning, and less frequently, on the floor. Wherever he could finally settle down, or collapse, is where he slept. So not only was he dealing with his obsessive-compulsive disorder, he was also dealing with the effects of sleep deprivation.

I think OCD, by its very nature, is unconducive to a good night’s sleep. How can you sleep when you have to continually check to make sure the door is locked or the stove is off? How can you relax when you need to review your entire day in your head to make sure you didn’t do anything wrong?  How can you breathe easy when you find yourself ruminating on, of all things, not being able to sleep? Really, as anybody with OCD most likely knows, the possibilities are endless.

Sleep is critical to our well-being. A recent study concluded that an adequate amount of sleep is more effective in reducing pain sensitivity than sixty milligrams of codeine. I find that amazing. If sleep is that powerful, surely being deprived of it is detrimental to our health? And it’s a catch-22: Those with OCD can’t sleep because of their OCD and this lack of sleep intensifies the disorder.

Dan also went through a period of time when all he wanted to do was sleep, and he seemed to have no problem doing this. I believe this was related to depression when his OCD was severe, and also might be attributed to some of the many medications he was taking. We need to be aware that certain medications can affect our sleep in different ways, from insomnia to the inability to stay awake.

So how can those with OCD get the appropriate amount of sleep? I have no magical solution, but eating well, exercising, and living an overall healthy lifestyle can’t hurt. When Dan couldn’t sleep, listening to music sometimes helped distract himself from his own mind. For others, audio books or keeping the television on might work. I think the best solution, though by far not the easiest, is to work hard at fighting your OCD with a competent therapist and appropriate therapy. Hopefully then, this unwanted guest won’t stick around for any sleep-overs.


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