Many disorders mimic Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), including Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This sometimes makes it challenging to differentiate these disorders in the beginning. However, it is essential to identify and isolate the issues surrounding each disorder in order to develop an effective treatment plan that will make symptoms better – not worse.

For a better understanding, the following are frequently asked questions concerning the similarities and differences between ADHD and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD):

What is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?

OCD is a neurologically based disorder that causes anxiety. The International OCD Foundation defines OCD as “a disorder of the brain and behavior. OCD causes severe anxiety in those affected. OCD involves both obsessions and compulsions that take a lot of time and get in the way of important activities the person values.”

The obsessions are uncontrollable (and sometimes scary) thoughts or images that play over and over and over again in the child’s mind. The compulsions are rituals or behaviors that are usually performed in an attempt to unsuccessfully make the bad thoughts go away. Naturally, these thoughts and behaviors are very worrisome to a child and cause a great deal of anxiety that interferes with everyday life.

What are common “obsessions” in children and teens?

  • Fear of contamination or germs
  • Anxious about getting hurt or sick
  • Afraid of causing harm to someone
  • Worried about losing things or forgetting something important
  • Engrossed with bodily wastes or fluids
  • Preoccupied with sexual or aggressive thoughts
  • Obsessed with religion or morality
  • Need for symmetry and order
  • Superstitious about colors or numbers

What are common “compulsions” in children and teens?

  • Grooming rituals such as washing hands or brushing teeth a certain way or a specific number of times
  • Cleaning rituals such as excessively washing a dish
  • Checking rituals such as repeatedly making sure a door is locked or homework has been done
  • Repeating or counting rituals such as walking through a doorway three times or knocking in a sequence
  • Collecting or hoarding items of little or no value
  • Arranging and rearranging things in order

What are the similarities between ADHD and OCD?

Both disorders have symptoms of being fidgety, distracted, and inattentive which makes them initially challenging to differentiate. Both disorders can also result in compulsive behavior because the child is unable to control their thoughts, feelings, and actions.

How is ADHD different from OCD?

In a nutshell, children with ADHD are impulsive and not afraid to take risks. However, kids with OCD are overly concerned about the consequences of risky behavior and have difficulty making spontaneous decisions.

How is ADHD treated?

Children with ADHD are treated with behavioral therapy, psycho stimulant medications, and sometimes antidepressants.

How is Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior treated?

Psycho stimulant medications (i.e., Ritalin) used for ADHD can sometimes worsen OCD symptoms and intensify those behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been proven to be very effective in changing thought patterns and routines to help eliminate the need for compulsive behaviors. Antidepressants and/or antipsychotic medications are also sometimes prescribed to help reduce symptoms.

Can a child have both disorders?

Yes, a child can have two or more co-existing disorders, which is referred to as “comorbidity.”  They are simultaneously treated the same way with a comprehensive therapy plan and appropriate medications that are carefully monitored for side effects and success. You can read more about how ADHD is often misdiagnosed and/or overlap other disorders in Misdiagosing ADHD in Children.”

If you suspect your child is suffering from ADHD and/or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, please contact a qualified professional to make sure they receive a proper diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.


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