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Teaching Students with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

written by: Rose Kivi • edited by: Sarah Malburg • updated: 1/5/2012

Students with obsessive compulsive disorder face special challenges in the classroom. Teachers need to use flexible teaching methods to educate students with OCD.

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    OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)

    Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness whose symptoms consist of a patient experiencing obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are thoughts that get stuck in the person's head and compulsions are activities or rituals that the person performs in an often futile attempt to relieve their obsessive thoughts. Each case of OCD is different. Different people will experience different obsessions and compulsions. Some cases are more severe than others. Severe cases can involve a good portion of a person's day repeating compulsive rituals. A person with OCD cannot simply be told to stop their obsessions or compulsions. Usually their obsessions, compulsions and ritualistic behavior do not make much sense. The patient often knows the irrationality of their behavior, yet they still cannot stop it.

    Currently there is no cure for OCD. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and medications are used to treat OCD with varying success. Doctors speculate that OCD is caused a chemical imbalance in the brain.The chemical serotonin, which is believed to be responsible for the communication of cells in the brain, is thought to be low in people with OCD.

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    Understanding Symptoms

    Every individual with OCD is different. Different people experience different obsessions and compulsions. It is important for a teacher to understand the obsessions and compulsions that a student has, so that classroom teaching methods can be adjusted. Teachers should meet with parents to gain an understanding of a student's individual needs. School counselors are a good additional resource for teachers to help them understand OCD and how it can affect a student.

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    Teaching Methods

    The classroom setting and interaction with a student with OCD, should be kept calm. Stress causes OCD symptoms to worsen. A teacher should never punish a student for their OCD behaviors. It not only will not work, it can aggravate their symptoms. Teachers should maintain flexibility on due dates and completion of school work. Students with severe checking rituals, where they check their work constantly, often cannot get their work completed in a timely manner and may not even be able to complete their work.Teachers should respect the physical boundaries of a student who is afraid of germs. Many OCD people who are afraid of germs, become highly agitated when touched.

    A moderately active classroom that keeps an OCD child's mind interested, can help them to function better in the classroom. An OCD student should be allowed to take a break from schoolwork when it is compounding their symptoms and making them worse.

    Some OCD students are able to hide their compulsive rituals from others quite well. Others cannot hide their symptoms. If a student's symptoms become too distracting to the rest of the classroom, sit the student in the back of the classroom. When an OCD student has an extra hard time with symptoms, they should be allowed to retreat to a private area of the classroom, so that they can feel at ease.

    Creativity, flexibility, kindness and patience are all key factors towards successful teaching methods for an OCD student.