OCD Chicago

Your Child Can Get Better With Effective Treatment
Information for Parents

OCD At School

Teachers can be an important link in your child’s support network.

Teachers may become powerful allies in the OCD recovery process.  OCD can adversely affect a child or teen’s academic performance.  The person who is most likely to see that something is amiss in the classroom is, of course, the teacher, who sees your child daily during the school year.  Your child may be showing symptoms of OCD during class, study time, playtime, or during sports or lunchtime.  Even if your child does not exhibit OCD symptoms or compulsions at school, their performance and social relationships may suffer because of OCD.

Sometimes children or teens start the day tired because they are simply exhausted from their obsessions and compulsive rituals.  Sometimes the stress of hiding compulsions while at school distracts the child or teen from paying attention in class.  A child or teen who suffers from OCD will feel isolated and unhappy, causing schoolwork and peer relationships to suffer.

You can choose not to tell the school about OCD.  Older children or adolescents may be embarrassed by their OCD and want to keep it private.  The choice is yours, of course.  But we recommend that you weigh the alternatives—privacy as weighed against potential help from teachers.

Many schools offer accommodations to help children who have OCD.  In severe cases, help may be available under federal law for children with disabilities.

“Stigma” versus Benefits

A child or teen with OCD may benefit from special assistance for a time in order to keep up with class work and not fall behind.  If the child or teen’s behavior is noticeable in class, or if the behavior keeps them from learning in the classroom, special help may be required.

Schools can be responsive to the needs of children or teens with OCD.  If the OCD is not severe, it’s possible that the school can move quickly to accommodate the child’s needs.  This could involve individualized changes such as not penalizing chronic tardiness, not repeatedly disciplining disruptions with a trip to the principal’s office or changing study assignments to accommodate a “perfectionist” child who may become highly stressed over long assignments.

With less severe cases of OCD, the child or teen may be eligible for services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  This is a statute barring discrimination against children with disabilities and requires the school to provide reasonable accommodations for the child.  This alternative may provide services more quickly, and with less of a “stigma”, because with this program the child is not required to be classified as needing “special education”.

Schools are already required by federal law to provide certain benefits to children with disabilities.  Severe cases of OCD may qualify the child for special education services under IDEA—the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  To qualify, the child must undergo a formal IDEA evaluation, after which the school will develop an individualized educational plan (IEP).  Of course, with this approach, there’s no hiding the OCD, and whatever “stigma” may come with a diagnosis of a mental disorder or special education.  It may also take the school a long time to complete the necessary paperwork, arrange for the evaluation and develop the plan.

The “stigma” may be an unplanned consequence of special education.  Attending separate classes away from the child’s usual classmates draws attention to the child from peers and teachers.  However, a special education classification is considered confidential information, and you can request that it be withheld from transcripts to colleges in the future if your child recovers from OCD and is declassified, or wants to try college without special accommodations.

It’s possible that if you talk with your child’s teacher or the school principal, they will be flexible and innovative in finding ways to help your child.  You may also want to:

  • Talk with other parents who may have already faced OCD with their child to find out what approach they took, and how the school accommodated them.
  • Get information at a local support group of parents.  Parents of children with OCD who have already approached the school about their child’s accommodations can be a good resource as you sort through the alternatives (and the decision about whether to involve the school, or not, in your child’s fight against OCD).
  • Learn more about the Individuals with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (web sites containing more information are listed in the More Resources section of this web site).
  • Consider contacting an expert in special education or an attorney who specializes in disability law to provide objective information about your child’s rights to a quality education.

Learn more about OCD and education

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