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Article by:-
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.

My Findings

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
      children and often got into trouble.
•  " Children with OCD had the most problems with friends and their social life. Other children often
      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, breaking
      rules and bullying their peers.
•  " Children in the OCD group often had other anxiety problems, like phobias, fears of being separated
      from loves 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 Mareli Fischer Masters Student University of Cape Town Department of Psychology ACSENT Laboratory