Hypersensitivity During Childhood May Lead To OCD Onset

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Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a condition, characterized by unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings and behavior which are directed to reduce anxiety. The symptoms of OCD usually occur before 18 years old in 80% of the cases. Prof. Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Psychology stated that childhood hypersensitivity and excessive childhood rituals adherence may predict OCD’s onset in later years. Prof. Dar and his colleagues have directly correlated sensory processing (the process by which the nervous system deals with incoming sensory information) and OCD behaviors.

This research can be found in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. It depicts that the children’s experience of increased sensitivity levels can precipitate the development of ritualistic behaviors, for them to deal better with the environment. In the long run, this can eventually lead to OCD.

Two studies were designed in exploring the relationship between sensory processing, ritualistic behavior and OCD. The first study involved instructing the parents to accomplish 3 questionnaires regarding their child’s behavior: (a) their ritualism level (i.e. the necessity to repeat actions or put objects in order in a certain manner); (b) their anxiety level (i.e. responses to strangers, preoccupation with outcomes, attachment to family members); and (c) how they react to daily sensory instances (i.e. being touched). On the other hand, the second study entailed asking the 314 adult participants to respond to the online surveys with regards to their predisposition to OCD, degrees of anxiety and their oral and tactile sensitivity before and presently.

The findings from the 2 studies showed a strong association of compulsive predisposition to hypersensitivity. Increased sensitivity was indicative of ritualism among children, while it was linked to OCD manifestations in adults. Prof. Dar believes that the children’s hypersensitivity to touch and smell may result to feelings of being attacked or threatened. Furthermore, ritualistic behavior could be their defense mechanism which gives them a feeling of control; this is also a sign of OCD in adults. Indeed, these results may pave the way in establishing that these sensitivities can be markers of OCD symptoms.

Prof. Dar is hopeful that a longitudinal research can be performed in the future, involving a large sample of children having oral and tactile sensitivities until adulthood. This can aid in giving light t the link between childhood hypersensitivity and adult OCD. Prof. further added that children have certain habits, which may be non-pathological and are just typical to their development level. What can signify pathology is if the behavior persists to ages of 8 and over, with features of anxiety and distress.

This study can be very useful in health care, especially in preventing and anticipating potential OCD cases. This can further lead to more breakthroughs in behavioral and psychiatric science.




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