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Mareli Fischer Masters Student University
of Cape Town
Department of Psychology ACSENT Laboratory
Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD):
What is all the fuss and research about?
During my Psychology Honours year at UCT in 2008,
I decided to do my research project on children
with ADHD and OCD, and how these disorders impact
on their lives every day. I could not find many
other studies that looked at this topic, and none
which had application in South Africa. It is essential
to try and answer some of the many questions that
parents and teachers often struggle with when
dealing with these two disorders.
Why ADHD and OCD?
The first question that comes to mind will be:
why am I focusing on these two disorders specifically?
It is important to start by defining the characteristics
of each. Children with ADHD struggle to pay attention
and finish tasks, and many have difficulty sitting
still or playing quietly. There are three sub-types
of ADHD: the predominantly inattentive type
(children struggle to keep attention focused and
are often labeled as daydreamers), the predominantly
hyperactive type (children run around and
climb on things, struggle to remain quiet and
seated, and are often labeled as naughty or trouble
makers) and the combined type (children
have characteristics of both inattention and hyperactivity)
Whereas ADHD is a behavioural disorder, OCD is
an anxiety disorder. Children have repetitive
thoughts that they can not get rid of. These are
called obsessions, and for many children
these thoughts are scary or make them feel guilty.
Children with OCD also often have certain rituals,
or things they need to do over and over again,
for example counting or straightening their toys,
or washing their hands over and over.
They feel scared and anxious if they are not allowed
to complete their rituals, called compulsions.
ADHD is very frequently diagnosed in classrooms,
when children struggle to pay attention. The truth
is that OCD is often wrongly diagnosed as ADHD.
When a child struggles to pay attention, it might
be because of an intrusive thought (OCD) and not
because of ADHD. It is very important to diagnose
these disorders correctly, and provide the right
treatment to the child.
What is Functional Impairment?
Functional impairment is a term that refers to
how well the child is coping in his/her life,
in all the different areas like school, home and
friendships. This is important, because this will
show a parent, teacher or therapist which area
to pay attention to. For example, if a child is
struggling to make and keep friends, exercises
and games that will improve social skills should
be focused on. My study wanted to see how children
with ADHD cope in these different areas, compared
to children with OCD.
At the end of last year's research I found the
following interesting results:
" Children with ADHD had most difficulty
in the area of school. They struggled to learn
like the other
often got into trouble.
" Children with OCD had the most
problems with friends and their social life. Other
thought they were
strange and their many anxieties made it hard
to befriend other kids.
" Children in the ADHD group often
had other behavioural problems, like angry outbursts,
bullying their peers.
" Children in the OCD group often
had other anxiety problems, like phobias, fears
of being separated
ones and being scared in big groups of people.
What does this all mean?
These results show us that children with OCD and
ADHD have different kinds of problems, and diagnosing
them wrong can be devastating to them and their
families. By telling a parent where their child
is having the most difficulty, we can help them
to pay attention to the right things and a big
problem can become easy to manage.
There were so many families interested in taking
part in the study, that I am continuing it this
year, and also expanding by adding a whole new
section that is looking at how parents are coping
with ADHD and OCD in their homes.
For more information please contact me at: 082
588 8727 or firstname.lastname@example.org Mareli Fischer
Masters Student University of Cape Town Department
of Psychology ACSENT Laboratory