Obsessive compulsive disorder affecting children as young as four, says Brisbane psychologist

ROSE BRENNAN, The Courier-Mail | July 24, 2015 10:00pm

CHILDREN as young as four are being diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, suffering “incredible distress” that causes them to count as they chew, wash cutlery repeatedly and constantly check their bags for homework.

Experts say the number of Queenslanders seeking help for the psychological condition is on the rise, with anger in a child now being considered a possible marker of OCD.

Brisbane clinical psychologist Emily O’Leary said her clinic treated children as young as four.

In toddlers, OCD can present as them wearing only certain clothes and obsessing about the cleanliness of cutlery.

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Sufferers in primary school will obsessively check homework is in their school bag, only use certain pens or seats, or repeatedly check where their parents are.

“In children, a lot of the time kids can get really angry and cranky because they get interrupted from doing their compulsion and they might not be verbalising what it is that’s causing that angry behaviour,” said Dr O’Leary, the director of the OCD Clinic, the only one of its kind in the state.

Children also obsess about their parents touching something contaminated while preparing food; will not eat food because the colour “reminds them of death or blood”; and will only eat foods in a certain order, chew a set number of times and eat while counting.

“It is really sad but early intervention is super crucial and it can have a significant impact on the pathways of the disorder. Giving children the diagnosis of OCD is not something we do lightly it has to be quiet severe and over and above what’s developmentally appropriate,” Dr O’Leary said.

The clinic receives 2-3 new referrals every second day as people become “braver” about seeking help for the “quite ­genetic” disorder.

“On average, there is eight years between a person getting diagnosed with OCD and then actually accessing help,” Dr O’Leary said.

“We are seeing more referrals for children and for diagnostic assessments.”

OCD is an anxiety disorder characterised by unwanted, intrusive thoughts or behaviours.

It is any behaviour that interferes with life by taking up hours in a day, feels uncontrollable and is “incredibly distressing”.

“It’s about ‘have to’ rather than ‘like to’,” Dr O’Leary said.

She said adults can be ashamed to come forward to their doctor because they suffer from repetitive harming or aggressive thoughts such ‘what if I push someone in front of a train’ or inappropriate sexual thoughts.

“Contamination fears are the socially acceptable OCD but there are others that are so common but people don’t talk because they’re embarrassed about it.”

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