"Mom, I have a handwashing problem"

Indeed you do, my darling daughter. I'm glad you realize it is a problem.  And now I know why I've had to refill the soap dispenser so frequently as of late.

Over the weekend I started settling into the realization that my 5 year old daughter is exhibiting common signs of an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  I would not have thought it possible at this age, but a recent report from Science Daily indicates that children as young as 4 can have full-blown OCD.

It was an abrupt onset of symptoms. Two weeks ago she started complaining after brushing her teeth that she felt like she just hadn't brushed everywhere.  She brushed quite frequently. But that seemed okay. It was after each meal and snack throughout the day which seemed logical, especially since she became aware of some cavities that need filling.

But that behavior looks different in hindsight. This past week she started washing her hands a zillion times, complaining about germs and worrying about everything touching something "dirty."  (okay, yeah, I'm a germophobe but not like this!)  She started taking multiple showers and baths a day, crying if we didn't let her.  She started getting chapped hands.

I knew it crossed the line when she had a friend over yesterday and insisted (shrieked) that her friend must wash her hands (and rewash them) before touching things.  She tried her hardest to get everyone to go play outside so no one would touch things in the house.

She has been in nearly constant agony and distress.  Even sleep has not brought relief. She has been waking up sobbing.

Over the past several months she has said "I wish I was never born" which was alarming to me. 

I felt that way a lot as a child with a panic disorder. I've seen the terrorizing symptoms of panic and anxiety displayed in my firstborn with a sensory processing disorder.  And now I'm seeing the OCD in my second child.

I think back to when she was 3 and we would be late for soccer games because she couldn't get her socks and shin guards exactly even and would meltdown. 

I just figured she had mild sensory issues like her brother and was irritated by the clothing. But now I realize it was because of the lack of symmetry.

So she has only a few socks she would wear but mostly avoids them, choosing to wear boots or flip flops instead.

And she often begs to have her hair in pigtails like her cousin or other girls she observes.  But it's only a few minutes before a meltdown occurs.  She sobs that the pigtails are not even, no matter how many times I redo them. They never stay in for more than a few minutes before she is in complete agony.

My children are the fifth generation to deal with some level of "mental illness" related to anxiety disorders.  Anxiety and panic disorders can be traced at least back to my great grandmother. 

These issues have affected my grandmother; my father, all his siblings, at least one cousin; several of my cousins; and now my own children. At one point I counted that 50% of our descendants were affected in some way. I've learned of a family member diagnosed with schizophrenia.  And we've recently learned of a bi-polar diagnosis in my husband's family.

Some folks feel it is shameful to discuss or admit anyone is affected.  But not me.  It's not a moral failing. It's not anyone's "fault."  It's not because someone is weak.  It's just a medical issue.

RESOURCES: So the journey begins for another child. Here are some resources we'll be investigating.

Freeing Your Child from Obsessive-Compu​lsive Disorder: A Powerful, Practical Program for Parents of Children and Adolescents by Tamar Ellsas Chansky

What to Do When Your Brain Gets Stuck: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming OCD (What-to-Do Guides for Kids) by Dawn Huebner

Talking Back to OCD: The Program That Helps Kids and Teens Say "No Way" -- and Parents Say "Way to Go" by John S. March MD

Health Journeys Help For Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder [Audio CD] - Belleruth Naparstek


LaRita said...

Drew seems to have a bit of this condition as well, but he has so far managed it fairly well. We had struggles in elementary school though, when he insisted on coloring in ever loop or dot in his school work... his homework took hours because he was forever 'fixing' his handwriting and couldn't seem to just DO the work. We had to force him to just write fast and sloppy because if he tried to focus on writing neatly, he couldn't get anything done. It seemed to be an all or nothing thing with him.

I'd be interested if you find some of these books might have helpful things for an older teen. We have encouraged him to fight the compulsions rather than to give in to them, because giving in gives them a stronger hold... but it's hard to explain to a child why that is important when I haven't dealt with it myself.

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