As a Teacher, How Can You Help a Child Struggling With OCD in the Classroom?

As teachers, managing children in the classroom can be a challenge. Keeping the attention of the entire class at all times is a daunting task, no matter how experienced or how great a communicator you are. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, there will always be several students preoccupied with trivial things like daydreaming or passing notes to each other. We always have to tailor our lessons to be as engaging as possible, but there are a few instances out of our control, including when dealing with students exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, such as ADHD, anxiety or OCD. In this article, we’re going to focus on helping teachers identify and manage students with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder).

What are the symptoms of OCD?

Before we can actually help children with OCD in the classroom, we first have to become familiar with its symptoms. Some telling signs that a student might have OCD include repetitive behaviors, constantly arranging things on their desk, fidgeting, asking for reassurance, being avoidant, and much more.

These are some of the visible symptoms, however, things get even more complicated in the mind of a child with OCD. Obsessing over a trivial thing, intrusive and distressing thoughts, intense feelings of anxiety or distress can all unfold without anyone on the outside noticing. OCD is fairly hard to spot if you don’t know which signs to look out for, but once you pick up on some, you can approach the situation more intuitively.

Remember, OCD should only be diagnosed by a licensed professional, and if you think you have children in your classroom who exhibit worrying signs of the illness, we advise you to contact a mental health professional. At Da Vinci Collaborative, apart from tutoring, we also engage in mental health services for children, so you can contact us with any questions or concerns.

How can teachers help children with OCD in the classroom?

Once you identify some of the signs of OCD in children, you can start catering to their special needs, without disrupting the entire class. Keep in mind that children with OCD struggle to function at school properly, and can often be very difficult to deal with. By using some of these techniques, you can not only help students with OCD, but also increase the focus of the class as a whole.

1. Try not to bring it up in front of the class

Your main goal is to alleviate pressure and discomfort, not to cause it. Children with OCD struggle every day with their condition, and the last thing they want is a class full of people knowing exactly what they’re going through. Sometimes, even if you’re the only one who notices that something is off, it might rub them the wrong way if they find out you know. Instead, try making changes subtly. They will appreciate it, and maybe even start to open up, giving you the chance to talk about the condition in front of the class one day.

2. Skip the student from reading out loud

Children with OCD that have symptoms of anxiety can sometimes freeze if put on the spot, and reading out loud might become a nightmare. Furthermore, if the student suffers from perfectionism, they might think they have to read perfectly, which can cause unnecessary pressure, as well as high expectations for themselves. It’s best to let the other children read out loud, and perhaps practice reading after class, or on a break in your office.

3. Extend time for tests

Most of the time, students with OCD need a bit of extra time to finish their assignments or tests. Extending the time for exams can be difficult, however, you could test the child separately. Furthermore, you could extend the regular test time by staying in the class a bit longer, or by saying that the test is over when the last student finishes. This will also give a chance for other students to finish, if they haven’t already. Of course, depending on the school’s policy, you may or may not be able to do all these things.

4. Break homework into small pieces

Ideally, both homework and schoolwork should be broken into smaller chunks for children with OCD. By tackling smaller tasks and getting more schoolwork done, students will feel more accomplished. Large essays will surely demotivate them, and even cause anxiety. Although you have control over how you assign homework, you’ll most likely teach lessons at school following a certain curriculum and structure. However, you can have a private discussion with their parents, and suggest specialized tutoring for their child.

5. Seating arrangement

This is also tricky. Randomly switching seats one day for a student or two might seem a bit off for the rest of the class. However, moving children with OCD away from doors or windows, to limit their distraction, is a good strategy, but not the ideal solution for every case. A student with OCD might feel exposed sitting in the front, and have the feeling that everybody is watching them. Furthermore, some children might fidget a lot and inevitably disturb the rest of the class, so sitting them in the back might prove more useful. There’s no unique solution, so you might want to test out several strategies and see how things improve.

OCD can severely impact a student’s learning journey, as well as their social and personal lives. It’s very important that obvious symptoms are not ignored, and as teachers, it’s our duty to recommend professional help to parents for their children. Both therapy and private tutoring can offer better academic and personal development for kids suffering from OCD.

At Da Vinci Collaborative, we work with students every day and help them study with our personalized learning programs. If you’re in need of specialized tutoring for your child, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our teachers can’t wait to meet new students and embark on exciting journeys.

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