When my son Dan’s obsessive compulsive disorder was severe, many of the manifestations of his illness were obvious and serious. When you’re in college, it’s pretty tough to hide not being able to put a morsel of food in your mouth, or not being able to walk from point A to point B. I am so thankful that Dan is doing well, and that his OCD is now classified as mild. He seems fine.
But he still has OCD, and he is still in college. As I’ve discussed before, college accommodations for those with OCD can be a complicated matter, and schools in general have a long way to go in their understanding of how to help those students with the disorder. For Dan, his challenges are more subtle now than when his OCD was severe, but they are still there. One of the things he struggles with is the balance of details within the big picture.
Certainly, this issue is not limited to those with OCD. People process information differently, and the index of learning styles developed by Richard Felder and Linda Silverman back in the 1980’s references the balance of details within the big picture. However, it is not unusual for those with OCD to have this tendency. And when I think of it, it makes sense. Those who have trouble balancing details within the big picture, simply put, are putting too much focus on the wrong things. Sound familiar?
Those who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) serve as a good example of this. BDD is a disorder in which people misperceive themselves as disfigured and ugly, and it is closely associated with OCD. BDD sufferers are overly focused on details of their appearance. For example, a small mole on the face may be seen as a hideous disfigurement. A recent study conducted at UCLA found that people with this disorder exhibit an abnormality in how visual information is processed (they have less brain activity when looking at the “big picture” as opposed to looking at details).
Whether this abnormality in visual processing is a cause of BDD or a result of having the disorder remains to be answered. The question we can answer now is how can we help those who have this very real problem of balancing details within the big picture? Therapy can help, and in the context of college, the answer for Dan is simple. Just informing his teachers of the issue and checking in regularly with them to make sure he is on the right track with assignments and projects is usually all that is needed. Again, it comes down to raising awareness and educating others about OCD, and then working together to ensure success.