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Could Your Child Have OCD Too? | The Essential Guide To Autism

Could Your Child Have OCD Too?

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After yet another display of lining up toys or endlessly performing the same behavior over and over it’s not unusual for parents to wonder if their child may have not one but two disorders - autism and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

OCD is a neurological disorder that causes obsessive thoughts and behaviors and can greatly disrupt a person’s life. There are two main elements to OCD, thoughts or obsessions and compulsions or behaviors.

The obsessions are experienced as thoughts, images or impulses and can be persistent. Whereas compulsions are repetitive behaviors that the sufferer feels compelled to carry out whether they want to or not. The performance of the repetitive behaviors is usually done to reduce distress or to stop a particular event.

It is common for people with an autism spectrum disorder to also display repetitive behaviors and have repetitive thoughts, comparable to those who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  OCD is a condition that generally makes sufferers feel uncomfortable with their symptoms, and wish that they could get rid of them.  On the other hand children with autism are usually unconcerned with their various obsessions or behaviors and may even see them as comforting, increasing the frequency during stressful situations as a calming mechanism. 

There are two possible treatments for autism and OCD-like behaviors: behavioral therapy, and medication.   Frequently, these two forms of therapy are prescribed together. 

The most common kind of medication prescribed for treating OCD behaviors in autistic individuals are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).  SSRIs are antidepressant medications that have also shown to be helpful in reducing OCD behaviors. However, they can come with some serious side effects including an increased risk of suicide. Parents’ whose children are on SSRIs should monitor behaviors closely and report anything out of the ordinary to a medical professional.

Behavioral therapy can be another way to reduce repetitive behaviors, however there is not one treatment that has been found to be consistently effective for all cases of autism.  This is due to the fact that no two cases of autism are exactly the same. 

Therefore, before a behavioral therapy is selected to deal with autism and OCD symptoms, an IQ test and/or functional cognitive level test will usually be administered. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) works well for lower functioning children or younger children, and Cognitive Behavioral therapy can show good results for higher functioning, more verbal children with autism.

To ensure best results it is often recommended that behavioral treatments and medication be combined. The medication is usually prescribed to help the child become more open to the behavioral therapy.  Since behavioral therapy can be challenging – especially as most children don’t see their OCD behaviors as undesirable – medication can make the difference in encouraging children to be open to the suggested changes.

While autism and OCD can occur in the same individual, it is much more common for children with autism to simply display behaviors that are similar to those of OCD, but that are in fact a part of their autism symptoms and not a separate case of obsessive compulsive disorder. Nonetheless, it is believed that autism and OCD based repetitive thoughts and behaviors are quite similar in the early stages of development, but become dissimilar over time as they often serve different functions within the two disorders.

Dealing with autism and OCD at an early age should be prioritized to ensure that regular childhood and life experiences such as early education occurs more smoothly.  The fewer obsessive-compulsive symptoms a child with autism has generally, the more positive their educational and life experiences will be.

If you believe your child is suffering from OCD contact your doctor to discuss diagnosis and treatment options.


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One Response

  1. October 3rd, 2008 | 2:54 pm

    Herbal and homeopathic remedies, and ABA and CBT - and SSRIs - are all well and good, but this approach to the matter is not enough. For those ASD kids who are more than ‘just’ victims of heavy metal poisoning, which can be dealt with (to varying degrees of success, depending on various factors, like testosterone levels) via chelation therapy, there can well be actual brain damage involved, from the autoimmune effects of vaccines. This not only involves myelin damage to the cranial nerve systems - and thus cross-wirings, etc.; think the likes of dyslexia (which Minimal Brain Damage/Disorder conditions can be helped to some extent by ingestion of EFAs, overcoming the damage to the myelin sheathing) - but the damage done to the brain itself from the various excitotoxins involved. In these cases there are not going to be major results until that damage can be isolated/identified, and corrected, or at least modified by CBT.

    Example. Researchers discovered a ‘craving centre’ in the brain that triggers addictions (a small pea-shaped area in the frontal lobe called the anterior cingulate cortex). It stores up memories of feelings of excitement and pleasure associated with the substance - nicotine, alcohol, gambling, food, sex, drugs - and triggers those emotions when the person is faced with the opportunity to have their ‘fix’ of choice, or just feels the craving coming on. The memory will always be there; however, another part of the brain - the orbital frontal cortex - determines whether or not the person acts on their cravings. The addiction can be damped down by drugs; but also by therapies like the 12-step programmes, which help activate the higher, frontal cortex in controlling the addiction from the primitive part of the brain, where it originates from.

    This is all by way of saying that research into ASD should also concentrate on what parts of the brain are activated when various behaviours are entered into, to get to the possibility of modifying them (like OCD). The drug companies are not going to do that research; that’s in competition with their products. It will have to be done by hospitals, or universities, or independent research funded by governments. And that’s not going to happen until there is pressure brought to bear. Which can come from small, dedicated ASD groups, calling for it, based on preliminary results from some of the more active/fundraising ASD groups (the ones not controlled by Big Pharma; if there are any).

    We still have a ways to go in this matter….Keep up your good work, Rachel, in the meantime.

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