Excessive Rituals in Children Could Signal OCD

Childhood hyper sensitivity linked to adult OCD

(RxWiki News) Most children have a pretty stable routine, like a daily school routine, consistent meal times, regular schedules for bath, homework and bedtime.

But when such structured rituals are combined with certain sensitivities, they could be an early warning sign of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

"Watch for a child's rituals that go beyond the norm."

Professor Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University conducted the first comprehensive study of its kind, showing a direct correlation between sensory processing (how the nervous system managing sensory input) and ritualistic or OCD behavior.

Childhood hypersensitivity in oral or tactile ways, such as an irritation with fabrics or excessive discomfort at the dentist, could foreshadow the onset of OCD as a child progresses into adulthood.

After working with OCD patients who had reported sensitivity to touch or taste as children, Dar began to suspect the link between such sensitivity or excessive adherence to childhood rituals, and adult OCD.

Dar and his fellow researchers devised two studies to map the link. In the first, parents of kindergarten children were asked to complete questionnaires about their child's behavior, including ritualism, anxiety, reactions to strangers and reactions to everyday sensory events.

In the second study, 314 adult participants completed an online survey about their OCD tendencies, anxiety levels and their past and current sensitivity to oral or tactile stimulation.

In both studies, results indicated a strong correlation between hypersensitivity and compulsive tendencies. In the children, hypersensitivity was an indicator of ritualism, while in adults it was related to OCD symptoms.

Put together, the results indicate that such childhood sensitivities may warn of OCD tendencies later in life, particularly when the behaviors occur at the age of eight and older.

Dar believes that over-adherence to childhood rituals could be a defense mechanism which helps children regain a sense of control, in much the same way that adults with OCD respond.

Dar intends to conduct a longitudinal study to better understand this relationship. The study appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 

Photo credit: Tel Aviv University

Review Date: 
December 28, 2011