Behaviors Often Confused With Another Disorder

Some behaviors associated with OCD are easy to confuse with ADHD, learning problems or being oppositional.

  • Distraction: If a child is busy thinking that if she doesn’t turn the pen cap and count to four the right way then her mom is going to get sick, she’s not going to be paying attention in class. And if her teacher calls on her to answer a question, her distraction might look like ADHD, but it isn’t.
  • Slowness on exams, papers and tasks: Sometimes when kids take a long time, they’re struggling with the perfectionism of needing to do things the right way. This could look like learning problems, or inattention, but it isn’t.
  • Avoidance: Teachers might see a child who doesn’t want to sit on the floor, or pick things up that touched the floor, or get his hands dirty in art class. He may avoid a lot of playground activities — kids with germ fears will view the playground the way some adults view the subway: it’s gross. Why touch anything there?
  • Tapping and touching symmetrically: If a child sits down at her desk and she accidentally kicks the chair of the kid next to her with her right foot, she’s going to have to then kick it with her left foot. That might look like somebody who’s being oppositional, or somebody who’s got too much energy, but actually it’s OCD.
  • Complaints of anxiety and fatigue: There’s one interesting theory that kids with OCD are smarter than other kids. And if you consider how much thinking they’re doing, they’re really using their brain more frequently than a lot of other kids are. But when that’s coupled with a lot of anxiety, you can have a lot of fatigue. So it’s common for kids with OCD to want to come home and take a nap after school.