Wednesday, May 31, 2017

MENTAL HEALTH: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

The first time I ever heard of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) was in the 1997 movie, As Good as It Gets. It’s a movie about a writer who has OCD and his love interest, basically. As much as I knew it then, I didn’t appreciate it until many years later, when working with children on the spectrum made me read about it.
Image credit: Poster from Wikipedia

Working with children with autism, I have heard people talk about OCD in relations to autism, with some confusing OCD with autism symptoms. But what exactly is OCD?

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is said to be a type of Anxiety Disorder, characterized by repetitive and compulsive behaviors that are a result of fears and distressing thoughts (obsessive). The behaviors are used to cope with the fears and thoughts, they feel like the behavior will avert something bad from happening. These behaviors range from ritualized washing, tapping, touching, arranging and rearranging, checking, apologizing, and certain mental rituals such as counting, or praying.

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Although like OCD, people on the autism spectrum show repetitive behaviors, people on the spectrum will most likely not think it through and can be unaware of what they are doing, and it may just be because they enjoy the behavior, so the behavior is not as a result of fearful thoughts. People that have OCD are afraid of germs and contamination, harm coming to them or to others, intruders, that they may harm others, among other things. And then display these compulsive behaviors as responses to such thoughts.

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But then can a person on the spectrum have OCD?

Last year, I shared on this blog about Anxiety, and I mentioned that it can be a comorbid disorder in some people living with autism. It is the same for OCD. According to a 2011 study, about 17% of people on the spectrum meet the criteria for OCD (Van Steensel, Bogels, and Perrin, 2011), but according to Autism Speaks, the percentage of people on the spectrum that have OCD ranges from 8% to 33%. Although these statistics are based on studies in the US, and we do not have recorded data in Nigeria, there are families that have expressed concerns about anxiety disorder and OCD in their children and adults on the spectrum.

According to Autism Speaks, OCD is not common in children on the spectrum, because it develops in adolescents and adults. The cause of OCD is not fully known, but medical professionals suggest that it can be genetic as it has a tendency to run in certain families, or a result of habits that one may have developed over a long period of time.

If you think that you may have OCD or as a parent you think your teenager or adult on the autism spectrum may have OCD, speak to a psychiatrist about it. Although there is no cure for OCD, there are treatments that enable the patient cope better. As I said earlier, it is a type of Anxiety Disorder, and so it can be treated through therapy (Cognitive Behavior Therapy), or in some cases medications. Family support is also important in helping people with OCD. Family members can help by praising the efforts of the person with OCD, but no matter what you do, DO NOT make negative comments about the person’s disorder.

May is Mental Health Month, the mental health of everyone is important, including our children, teenagers, and adults on the autism spectrum. Let's get educated about our mental health.


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