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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8 Responses to Back to School with OCD

  1. MOMG says:

    Great post! Learning to advocate for your children and teaching them to advocate for themselves is an important step in the OCD Journey. This post really got me to thinking about how to handle my daughter’s (12 yrs old, severe OCD) transition as she changes schools next year. We have been fortunate to have a great local school and teachers who (mostly) understand her OCD, but I constantly worry about when she reaches post-secondary. It is a time when you want to allow your children freedom and yet at the same time, you also need to be available to help them navigate the system and find the best possible balance with their OCD to ensure their success.
    Thanks for another great post!

    • Thanks for your kind words and I enjoy your posts as well. You make a great point that it is so important to teach our children to advocate for themselves. I know what you mean about the “balancing act” and a good part of my book deals with that, not only in relation to school but in treatment as well. Next week I plan on sharing some more school-related resources. Good luck to you and your daughter this academic year!

  2. Will definitely consider talking to my form tutor about this. In the past, I have been forced to participate in subjects that trigger my OCD (specifically D&T as holding knives and cooking is extremely difficult for me), and when I have explained this, they tried to “logic-me-out-of-it”. Which most of us know is a waste of time.
    I would expect more teachers to be aware of the fact I suffer with anxiety disorders, but hardly any knew! This year, I am going to be more prepared to educate my teachers and not put up with discrimination.
    Thank you for making more people aware of their rights xx

    • Good for you! The “logic” they are trying to use is of no help, as you say, and might even exacerbate your OCD. I think in general teachers want to be helpful, but first they need to be educated about OCD. Wishing you a successful year in school!

  3. Christine says:

    Hello Janet. When you say logic can make the condition worse, what exactly do you mean? I suggest to my son (age 13 with scrupulosity) many ways to handle the thoughts, such as pretend they are a harmless spider with a web in the corner, that is annoying but cannot hurt him. He can accept that the spider is there, and not react to it. Or I tell him the thoughts are like annoying buzzing flies, but without sting or danger. I tell him the thoughts don’t make him ill, but his reactions do. I tell him to put the thoughts through a test, such as: Is this thought consistent with who Daniel is? Does it follow common sense–for example, is it something everyone might experience? If it doesn’t pass the test, it can be ignored. I tell him that when he ignores the thoughts and feels the immediate ill effects of ignoring them, he can try to ride that bad feeling like a wave and wait for it to lose its intensity, and in this way avoid a ritual. I tell him to remember that the content doesn’t matter.

    I tell him that when the chain reaction of thought, anxiety, ritual, relief is stopped, then he will get better and then when the thoughts come they will be low background noise he can ignore more easily than he can now.

    We don’t have an ERP therapist in our area, and also we can’t afford to pay out of pocket and we have lousy insurance. I have tried two simple ERPs with him, learning the technique from books, but his dedication/commitment to ERP therapy is very low right now. I do believe that adolescence makes it harder for him to let go of his fear, as he got much, much worse with the onset of puberty.

    Does the above sound like I am using logic to try to fight it, and thus making him worse? I never try to reassure him about the content of the thoughts themselves–such as saying he’s never going to love Satan–as I know that is akin to participating in his rituals. I’m sure you have limited time to advise people, but could you just tell me if this sounds like the logic route? Thanks so much, Janet!

    • Hi Christine,
      As you know, I am not a therapist, so I can’t really advise you, but in my opinion everything you are telling your son sounds right on target. Good for you for easing into ERP on your own! What I meant by “logic making things worse” is that many people think they can just “reason” with someone with OCD and that will help them, as in saying something such as “You’re a smart person; you KNOW tapping your foot 50 times isn’t going to keep something bad from happening.” The problem of course is that OCD is not logical, so this type of conversation is not helpful. In this post: I talk about how talking about OCD can be detrimental. That does not appear to be what you’re doing……… are explaining to your son what his OCD is all about and how he should react to it. I wish you and your son all the best as you move forward!

  4. Christine says:

    Thank you so much, Janet!

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