Sensitive Kids May Grow Into OCD Adults


How many times have you looked at a kid meticulously lining up a series of blocks, or refusing to eat anything green on their plate, or carefully putting on their socks in just the right way (because, duh, otherwise the seams press into their toes!) and thought, "Man, that kid is going to be totally OCD when she grows up." Well, it turns out you might not be that far off.

According to new research conducted by Professor Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University, there is a strong connection between children who are hypersensitive and focus on following strict rituals and adults who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Professor Dar found that there is a direct correlation between the way our nervous systems process sensory input and our development of ritualistic behaviors:

When children experience heightened levels of sensitivity, they develop ritualistic behaviors to better cope with their environment. In the long term, this is one potential pathway to OCD.

Professor Dar conducted two different studies to determine this connection. The first asked parents of kindergartners to fill out questionnaires about their child's need for ritual, their habits of repeating certain actions or ordering objects in specific ways, their anxieties, and their reactions to sensations like being touched or smelling or tasting something unusual. The second study asked adults to fill out surveys about "their OCD tendencies, their anxiety levels, and their past and current sensitivity to oral and tactile stimulation." Taken in combination, the studies established a link between OCD tendencies and high levels of sensitivity:

In children, hypersensitivity was an indicator of ritualism, whereas in adults it was related to OCD symptoms. As a whole, these findings provide preliminary support for the idea that such sensitivities are a precursor to OCD symptoms.

Dar believes that when kids are extra sensitive, they experience sensations in such a heightened way that it can feel like they're being attacked; they develop rituals as a way of protecting themselves against these sensory overloads and to help them "regain a sense of control." This behavior is also a symptom of adult OCD. While the connection makes sense, further longitudinal studies are needed to confirm the link between childhood and adult ritualistic behaviors.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons kids obsess over things, so don't stress too much about the chances of him or having OCD. In terms of potential warning signs, Dar says, "If you see that a child is very rigid with rituals, becoming anxious if unable to engage in this behavior, it is more alarming." But it also depends on the child's age. In a five- or six-year-old, it might not be an indication of future OCD, but if it's happening past the time a child is eight, then it could be a red flag, particularly if they suffer from anxiety.

Childhood Hypersensitivity Linked to OCD [ScienceDaily]

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