The Autism Spectrum & OCD Spectrum Connection

Autism Spectrum Disorders & Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in Children, Adolescents & Teens:

Children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have an increased risk of experiencing an anxiety disorder and/or a diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  Therefore, at Spectrum Connections Therapy, I specialize in treating the behaviors that show up with ASD and OCD together or alone.

What is OCD?

First, let’s break down first what Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) really is.

  • Obsessions are persistently recurring thoughts, impulses, or images that are intrusive, inappropriate, and distressing.
  • Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that an individual feels driven to perform to reduce distress or prevent a feared outcome.
  • To receive a diagnosis of OCD, an individual’s experience of their obsessions and/or compulsions will cause significant distress, will be time-consuming (>1hr/day), and/or cause significant interference in daily functioning.

Therefore the cycle of OCD looks like this:

  • The individual will experience a thought (obsession)
  • This thought will lead to significant distress
  • The individual engages in a ritual (behavior)
  • As a result, the individual feels relieved and safe again.
  • Most importantly, due to the distressing thoughts and feelings being relieved by the behavior, the pattern is likely going to repeat itself and more often.

Some common obsessions include:

  • Fear of dirt, germs, getting sick, or serious illness
  • Fear for own safety or safety of parents
  • Excessive doubt
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Feeling of “not just rightness”
  • Sense of dread
  • Losing control
  • Harming self or others
  • There are many others!

Some common OCD Compulsions include:

  • Washing
  • Checking
  • Touching
  • Repeating
  • Counting
  • Cognitive or “thinking” rituals
  • There are many others!
  • Essentially, any behavior that serves to decrease the distress from the obsession can be considered a ritualized behavior and compulsion.

Childhood OCD can significantly impact the family…

OCD behaviors can lead to significant interference in a child’s and family’s life. As a result, parents will become locked into their child’s OCD and anxiety symptoms, because naturally, a parent’s first instinct is to reassure and help their child avoid the causes of anxiety and OCD. However, this reassurance and avoidance cycle can strengthen the power that OCD and anxiety have over the child and family life. This will lead to increasing challenges and symptoms over time. Parents find themselves having to spend an enormous amount of energy trying to stay ahead of any OCD symptoms or to help prevent their child from becoming anxious. Lastly, parents and families may find that their daily routine is greatly impacted and that their world becomes smaller as they manage their child’s OCD and anxiety.

Spectrum Connections Family-Focused Treatment to Break the OCD Cycle…

The gold standard treatment for OCD is called Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) because ERP involves facing the feared situations and preventing the individual from engaging in a ritualized behavior to feel safer. This is done in a step-by-step fashion using a hierarchy of the feared situations, difficult thoughts, and feelings.

At Spectrum Connections Therapy, I use a parent coaching and family systems approach in treatment which is crucial to reducing OCD symptoms with ERP treatment. Research studies show that ERP will have the best treatment success among those with High Functioning ASD who also experience OCD. While ERP can be hard, I am with you every step of the way to ensure success in fighting back against the “OCD Monster”. When using ERP with children and families it is important to tap into motivation! Unpacking motivation to help defeat “the OCD bully” is an important step in the treatment process. As well, at the beginning of treatment, we will spend some time as a team understanding how OCD has interfered in your child’s and family life. This process can also increase motivation to work on defeating OCD.

In a nutshell, Exposure and Response Prevention for children with a co-morbid diagnosis of OCD and ASD is a highly effective treatment that can create meaningful change in your child’s and family’s life.  Please reach out for a FREE 30-minute phone consultation if you would like to hear more about how I can be of support to your child and family.

Be Well,
Dr. G

Resource share:

Please check the International OCD Foundation out for more information on OCD:

Be well,

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