Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can affect people of all ages. OCD in children under 5 can and does occur, but many experts believe that toddlers and younger children afflicted with the symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder are suffering from a different type of OCD to adults.
What is OCD?
Obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder that causes obsessions and compulsions in affected people. Obsessions are characterized by unwanted and intrusive thoughts, overwhelming worries and concerns about germs, dirt and contamination, phobias, frightening images and irrational fears. Compulsions include rituals that must be performed, excessive cleaning or washing, repeated checking and, less commonly, behavior such as hoarding objects or dressing in a particular way.
The symptoms of childhood OCD commonly starts between 7 and 12, but there have been cases reported of OCD in children under 5. Research has shown that boys often show symptoms earlier than girls, and children who are diagnosed with childhood OCD often go on to develop other psychiatric disorders in their lifetime.
OCD symptoms can include both obsessions and compulsions, but younger children are more likely to show signs of compulsive behavior without the obsessions seen in older children and adolescents. When obsessions in younger children do occur, they are often focused on fears of contamination, body related fears, and concerns about getting things wrong. Compulsive behavior in younger children is often manifested by washing, checking things and a need for precise order, or repetitive activities.
Young children have a tendency to draw a parent into their rituals and obsessions. They will demand the parent help them in fulfilling their compulsions, and any attempt to thwart the child from carrying out the OCD behaviors will cause behavioral problems.
One of the main differences seen in young children with obsessive compulsive disorder and adults is that fear and obsessions are often centered around abandonment by key adults, whereas older children and adults are more likely to suffer obsessive fears relating to bad things happening to important people. Fear of change is also extremely common in younger sufferers of OCD.
Is OCD in children under 5 likely to continue into adulthood?
Evidence suggests that very young children suffering from the symptoms of OCD are quite likely to show a tendency towards similar symptoms in later life. Obsessions are very often triggered by similar situations in childhood and adulthood: a young child who suffers from an obsessive fear of abandonment will potentially suffer from renewed anxiety as an adult when somebody important leaves them.
OCD patients are often afflicted with a belief that they are worthless or bad in some way. Therefore a younger child who has OCD might also suffer from low self esteem issues. Other associated problems commonly seen in children with OCD include disruptive behavior and anxiety disorders.
Treatment for OCD in children under 5 will probably include some kind of cognitive behavioral therapy, although this is not always very successful with younger children as they lack insight into why their behavior is irrational. Medications including antidepressants might also be prescribed to counter the symptoms of OCD.