ASD vs. OCD symptoms in children

Posted on 02/01/17 03:49:am

OCDforASD-1.jpgChildren on the autism spectrum are often extra attentive to detail, enjoy having things just so and prefer the structure of daily patterns. These behaviors probably please your child and help him or her navigate the world around them.

“For kids on the autism spectrum, one of the prevailing characteristics is a rigidity toward routine, whether it’s a certain schedule or family routine,” says Joshua Nadeau, PhD, clinical supervisor, Rogers Behavioral Health–Tampa Bay. “But keeping a strict schedule can also be a characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)."

How can you tell if a child’s behavior is related to ASD or OCD?

According to Dr. Nadeau, when a child has ASD, they have ego-syntonic behaviors. “When a child with ASD feels good about having things a certain way or in a certain order, it brings pleasure,” he says. “If the child thinks of him or herself as a neat and orderly person, it makes them feel good to have a tidy environment.”

A child who has ASD and untreated OCD likely has ego-dystonic, or unwanted, behaviors. “When a child has OCD, they engage in repetitive, compulsive behaviors because they’re afraid of what’s going to happen if they don’t,” says Dr. Nadeau. “They don’t enjoy the behaviors and sometimes feel miserable because they think they’re doing them incorrectly.”

If a child with ASD engages in these behaviors (or demands the structure of a daily routine), but continues to show displeasure or appears miserable, this may be a sign of OCD. Generally speaking, a child with solely ASD would feel pleased or “settled down” after showing these behaviors.

New programming at Rogers

“More than 50% of children on the spectrum also have significant anxiety,” says Dr. Nadeau. “What’s concerning is it’s often very difficult for families and providers to find effective treatment.”

Rogers–Tampa Bay will soon open an Anxiety and Mood Disorders in ASD partial hospital program. The program will offer part-day treatment for children ages 6-18 with ASD and co-occurring OCD, anxiety, depression or other mood disorders. Family education and involvement will be a strong component of the program.

Symptoms vary by disorder, but common signs include:

  • Significant fears of different situations
  • Increased irritability or unusually cranky behavior
  • Decrease or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Unexplained increase in feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or negative self-talk

“It’s important to know we’re not treating autism through this program,” says Dr. Nadeau. “We’re giving kids on the spectrum the skills and resilience they need to decrease their anxiety or depression symptoms.”

To learn more about the program, contact outreach representative Kara Rapozo at 813-294-8469 or Begin the admissions process by requesting a free, confidential screening.


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