Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a chronic and debilitating condition which can strike anyone irrespective of age, gender or socioeconomic background. Although there is sufficient research on OCD in adults, there is limited knowledge about its impact on adolescents and teens. Youngsters can experience severe anxiety and emotional turmoil due to intrusive thoughts, urges or images (obsessions) and repetitive behavior (compulsions). Besides disrupting children’s domestic and social life, OCD can significantly impact their academic performance.
As part of a recent study undertaken by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) in the United Kingdom, two learning and memory tasks were administered to 36 teens with OCD and 36 control participants without the condition. The results of the study, published in the journal Psychological Medicine in January 2018, found that teens with OCD faced severe disabilities in all learning and memory tasks. The study also provided first-time evidence regarding deficits in “goal-directed control” and reduced cognitive flexibility in the early stages of OCD development.
Deficits in childhood learning and memory are associated with lower confidence and diminished self-esteem, which further induce OCD symptoms. Certain OCD symptoms, like habitual checking, may be an outcome of reduced confidence in recalling details (memory), while learning impairments may induce stress which can adversely impact cognitive flexibility. Professor Barbara J. Sahakian, professor of clinical neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge and the study’s senior author, was “surprised and concerned” at the extensiveness of learning and memory problems among adolescents in the early stages of OCD.
Concentration and homework difficulties most common issues among OCD-affected children
Past research found that problems in completing homework and concentrating in school were the two most common issues affecting children/adolescents with OCD. Youngsters can experience a range of obsessions (including contamination-related distress, desire for perfection and extreme orderliness) and compulsions (including excessive cleansing, habitually inspecting or checking things/people, and mental repetitions). Behaviors such as habitual checking can cause substantial delays in completing academic assignments at home or in school.
The findings can be used by educators to help OCD-affected children to achieve optimization in their learning abilities. For instance, it has been observed that children with OCD often have slower writing speeds or the tendency to strike out words/sentences. This may necessitate giving them extra time during exams or school assignments. Diminished processing ability is another characteristic of OCD; this may require giving youngsters a chance to answer questions verbally. Children with OCD may also need nudging to proceed from one assignment to another.
The findings have already been implemented in some schools to help OCD-affected adolescents. According to Anna Conway Morris, a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist at the CPFT and a co-author of the study, the approach has helped in structuring the school environment for adolescents with OCD and provided them with a “level playing field.” This made it possible for adolescents to achieve their true potential. It also helped an OCD-affected student to gain admission to college.
Treating adolescents with OCD
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) estimates that OCD affects nearly one in 200 children and adolescents. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most effective treatment for OCD, but its efficacy may sometimes be limited due to memory-related issues. Psychotherapy can be supplemented with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a class of drugs typically used as antidepressants, to ease OCD symptoms. Dealing with learning- and memory-related issues can also help in improving academic performance and adolescents’ self-confidence. The researchers recognize that further research is needed to define the specific association between OCD-related memory impairments and symptoms of the disorder.
Located in Delta, Utah, White River Academy offers evidence-based treatment for teens with obsessive compulsive disorder. It helps in altering problematic behavior among teen boys aged between 12 and 17 years. Contact our 24/7 helpline or chat online with a trained specialist for more information on the best OCD treatment centers for teens.