Study finds young children can develop full-blown OCD

September 30, 2008,

A new study by researchers at the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center has found that children as young as four can develop full-blown obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and often exhibit many of the same OCD characteristics typically seen in older kids.

The study, published online by the Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, is the largest sample of young children with OCD published to date.

"There have been very few studies focusing on early childhood OCD, even though we know that OCD, if left untreated, can significantly disrupt a child's growth and development and can worsen as the child gets older," says lead author Abbe Garcia, PhD, director of the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center (BHCRC) Pediatric Anxiety Research Clinic. "That's why we need to understand more about OCD in very young children, since early diagnosis and intervention are critical to reducing the severity of symptoms and improving quality of life."

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive behaviors (compulsions). Repetitive behaviors such as handwashing, counting, checking, or cleaning are often performed with the hope of preventing obsessive thoughts or making them go away. Performing these so-called "rituals," however, provides only temporary relief, and not performing them markedly increases anxiety. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as many as 1 in 200 children and adolescents struggle with OCD.

Garcia and colleagues studied 58 children with OCD between the ages of four and eight, including 23 boys and 35 girls. All children underwent a series of clinical psychological assessments. Approximately 19 percent had been previously treated with medication and 24 percent had received some form of previous psychotherapy for OCD. Twenty percent reported a first-degree family history of OCD. Nearly 22 percent of children had an additional diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and about 20 percent were also diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).

Common obsessions among children in the study included fear of contamination and aggressive/catastrophic fears (involving death or harm to themselves or loved ones), and three-quarters reported having multiple obsessions. Nearly all of the children suffered from multiple compulsive behaviors, with an average of four compulsions per child. Washing, checking and repeating were the most commonly reported compulsions.

A data analysis revealed a number of parallels between young children with OCD and reported samples of their older peers in terms of symptoms and severity. For example, both groups appear to have similar types of obsessions and compulsions, multiple psychiatric diagnoses, and high rates of OCD family history.

"These similarities suggest this is a study sample involving full-blown OCD, as opposed to children who are either in the beginning phases of the illness or only have a partial OCD diagnosis," says Garcia, who is also an assistant professor of psychiatry (research) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

However, Garcia says they also discovered some important differences between younger and older children with OCD. Although anxiety disorders seem to be a common comorbid diagnosis in both groups, younger children were less likely to have depression, compared to older children. Also, while many experts believe boys are more likely to present with juvenile OCD, the findings from the current study actually indicate a lower boy to girl ratio.

"Our findings offer the first glimpse at the features and variables that emerge during early childhood onset OCD and will hopefully lead to further studies focusing on assessment and treatment of this age group," Garcia says.

Source: Lifespan

Explore further: How OCD impairs memory and learning in children and adolescents – and what to do about it

Related Stories

How OCD impairs memory and learning in children and adolescents – and what to do about it

February 8, 2018
Imagine feeling like you're covered in germs that could kill you every time you come home from being in a public space. Before showering, you'd have to get inside without letting anything that's touched the outside world ...

Mothers and OCD children trapped in rituals have impaired relationships

April 10, 2012
A new study from Case Western Reserve University finds mothers tend to be more critical of children with obsessive-compulsive disorder than they are of other children in the family. And, that parental criticism is linked ...

Childhood hypersensitivity linked to OCD

December 27, 2011
In childhood, rituals like regular schedules for meal, bath, and bed times are a healthy part of behavioral development. But combined with oral and tactile sensitivities, such as discomfort at the dentist or irritation caused ...

Study finds family-based exposure therapy effective treatment for young children with OCD

May 5, 2014
A new study from the Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center has found that family-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is beneficial to young children between the ages of five and eight with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder ...

Childhood disorder bolsters research on infection link

December 12, 2011
Brody Kennedy was a typical sixth-grader who loved to hang out with friends in Castaic, Calif., and play video games. A strep-throat infection in October caused him to miss a couple of days of school, but he was eager to ...

Tracing the roots of OCD in pets and people

November 23, 2015
In 2011, science threw a curveball at Nicholas Dodman and Alice Moon-Fanelli. The two researchers were looking at bull terriers in hopes of finding the gene responsible for a debilitating behavior common in the breed. Up ...

Recommended for you

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

Expanding Hepatitis C testing to all adults is cost-effective and improves outcomes

February 16, 2018
According to a new study, screening all adults for hepatitis C (HCV) is a cost-effective way to improve clinical outcomes of HCV and identify more infected people compared to current recommendations. Using a simulation model, ...

Study suggests expanded range for emerging tick-borne disease

February 16, 2018
Human cases of Borrelia miyamotoi, a tick-borne infection with some similarities to Lyme disease, were discovered in the eastern United States less than a decade ago. Now new research led by the Yale School of Public Health ...

IFN-mediated immunity to influenza A virus infection influenced by RIPK3 protein

February 15, 2018
Each year, influenza kills half a million people globally with the elderly and very young most often the victims. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 37 children have died in the United States ...

Flu shot only 36 percent effective, making bad year worse (Update)

February 15, 2018
The flu vaccine is doing a poor job protecting older Americans and others against the bug that's causing most illnesses.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.