A version of this post first appeared on my blog in August 2013………
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?
During his senior year of college, my son Dan 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 children.
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.
I appreciate all that you do! Curious to hear any thoughts you might have regarding the effect homeschooling might have on OCD. We also homeschooled, mostly because teachers (including family members who were administrators of special ed departments) encouraged us to. But these days, though I have few regrets, I can’t help but wonder if homeschooling didn’t end up being a big accommodation all along…
Would love to hear your thoughts, if you find time.
Hi Barb, Thanks for commenting! I actually wrote a post about my thoughts on OCD and Homeschooling back in 2012:
There are no easy answers, and I guess I’ll never really know how different Dan’s journey might have been if he had not homeschooled.
Hi, I really need some advice. My 13 year old daughter had been diagnosed with ocd, she is currently having cognitive behavioural therapy with a child psychologist. She went to school for primary school but myself and my husband decided to homeschool her from high school. She has recently opened up to us saying that she would really like to go back to school as she really misses the classroom environment and having a teacher. I’m so torn and don’t know what to do, how will she cope in school with her ocd. If she did go back she would be in year 9. Please can someone get in contact and give me some advice. Part of me thinks that being at home all the time where most of her ocd rituals are is making her worse and that breaking free and going to school would help but then how will she cope in school
Hi, I’m not a therapist and I don’t know details of your daughter’s situation but I can give you some of my thoughts. First and foremost, you say your daughter is doing CBT. Specifically she needs ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy which is the evidence-based type of CBT therapy used for OCD. I cannot stress how important this is.
Also, I believe the fact that your daughter wants to get back out into the world is a positive sign and I suggest you discuss her situation in detail with either her current psychologist or an OCD specialist if this psychologist is not one.
I have written a lot about how loving parents inadvertently enable their children (I’ve done it – we all do) and that is likely happening in your home as well. This only strengthens OCD in the long run. As to how she will cope in school – that is unknown, but that is absolutely not a reason to not go. Facing uncertainty is a must for those with OCD and all of us!
Good luck as you move forward – I believe finding an experienced OCD specialist who knows how to utilize ERP is the first step.
Thank you for your reply. We have done some ERP work as it’s in the book that we are using. It’s only early days with the theapy at the minute and it’s really tough. What do you mean by parents inadvertently enabling?
I also discuss this topic in detail in my book and on my blog.