Students with OCD may be at greater risk for bullying.
Many bullying episodes are verbal, brief, and frequently take place during times with little teacher supervision. As a result, students may believe that teachers don’t care or can’t do anything about it. School personnel who allow bullying, teasing, and more aggressive pushing and hitting do damage to the self-esteem of a victimized student who has OCD.
For this reason, it’s important for personnel to remain vigilant for peer teasing and bullying of students with OCD. Some anti-bullying programs* are available, including the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program and Bully Busters. School personnel should review bullying programs carefully to determine which one is the best match for their school population.
Celebrating Skills and Talent
Students who have OCD are likely to have above average intelligence and may excel in a subject or have a particular talent. When these students have abilities in art, music, singing, athletics, poetry, science, or other areas, it may be very helpful to provide opportunities for them to demonstrate their talents and single them out for recognition. This will highlight the student's strengths and can improve self-esteem. It can help the student see that he or she is a valuable individual who is not defined by OCD, and it also helps classmates appreciate a side of the student they may not have recognized.
Improving Activity Dynamics
When classroom or lab assignments require small groups of students to work together on a project, it is sometimes helpful to include a student with OCD in a group of respectful classmates or with a single partner who gets along well with the student.
Physical education class can be particularly challenging for some students who have OCD, including those who avoid being touched, those who fear contamination by people and environments such as gyms and locker rooms or those highly sensitive to odors. These concerns may also apply to extracurricular activities involving physical activities. In fact, many students with OCD avoid contact sport of any kind.
If team sports are required as part of the curriculum, school personnel should work with the student, the parents and the student’s therapist to determine how to include the student without causing severe stress. For example, if physical contact would be unbearable a student might be asked to assist the teacher with equipment or record-keeping rather than take part in the sport itself.
Social Skills Training
Research indicates that for most people OCD begins during childhood. As a result, they are at high risk of OCD interfering with their development. It is imperative that school personnel provide social skills training to students with OCD who have difficulties with social functioning. Some students may need help with basic social skills, such as how to join in a group conversation; others have these skills but they don't apply them in social settings.
Formal social skills training may be necessary for some students to function. Some commercial programs* for teaching such skills are helpful; Skillstreaming the Elementary School Child: A Guide for Teaching Prosocial Skills/Program Forms, for example. It may be useful to consult with the school social worker, psychologist, or counselor to discuss social skills training for students with OCD.
But when a student has OCD, it’s not always clear how to ensure that the student receives the best education. What’s important is that school personnel, the parents, the therapist (when the student is receiving treatment) and the student, as appropriate, work together to make sure that the student gets the best education possible.
The ideas and strategies presented help many educators, administrators and school staff effectively work with students who have OCD, and today countless students benefit from their use. But school personnel and parents may need to develop a more structured approach to managing and maximizing their student’s academic, social, behavioral, and emotional development. That’s when considering the laws pertaining to a student's civil rights, the provision of special education and related services, and the safeguarding of privacy is a good course of action.
*NOTE: ADAA does not endorse specific programs; these are examples for your information.