The Effect of OCD on Academic Performance

OCD and School Work

A student who has untreated OCD is likely to struggle with concentration in the classroom. Students will often have a hard time concentrating because they will experience extreme anxiety and urges which can become overwhelming. Traditionally, these are smart, bright, kind, and likable students who are unable to excel and work to their fullest potential because of the rising and overwhelming anxiety they are experiencing.  Students will often focus on their compulsions or urges rather than the course work at hand. Students with OCD are fighting a constant battle within themselves. They want to succeed with their academics, but feel like they are being literally pushed back by their disorder.

I have heard OCD compared to a rising volcano, the anxiety and urges bubble and rise beneath the surface as the students tries to focus in the classroom, read the material, and take notes.  Trying to subdue the volcano and balance classroom requirements can become overwhelming and the only thing to relieve the anxiety becomes compulsive behaviors. These behaviors not only distract the student from the classroom but can also distract peers from their learning experience as well.

Throughout my teaching experiences, I have seen OCD manifest itself in multiple ways while in the academic setting. The student will readjust the paper a certain number of times times, move their pencil back and forth 15 times before they can pick it up, erase their name and rewrite it over and over again to make it perfect before they can start the assignment, when writing if they made an error in pen once, the entire assignment was thrown away and started over.  But these are all just behaviors and we don’t teach the behaviors, we teach students.

There are several ways to support students with OCD in school settings and help them challenge their compulsive thinking. One is helping a student complete an assignment in a certain time frame rather than a certain length or even completion. This can help them work and know there will be an end; their anxiety can ease knowing they won’t spend the entire day working on one assignment. Create routines for students so they know what to expect when they enter a classroom and then continue with a routine when at home. The routine is not about feeding the compulsion but easing the overall anxiety. When a student knows what to expect they can find trouble areas and address them with the teacher as well as finding strategies and tools that can create success.

By Alicia Walters.  Alica is the English Teacher at New Haven Residential Treatment Center