Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) often exhibit obsessive-compulsive behaviors (OCBs). These behaviors are somewhat different from the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Children with OCD experience unwanted and intrusive thoughts that they can’t seem to get out of their heads (obsessions), often compelling them to repeatedly perform ritualistic behaviors and routines (compulsions) to try and ease their anxiety.

Children with ASDs generally have repetitive, perseverative thoughts that are intense in nature, much like children with OCD symptoms. The big difference is that children with OCD do not like the experience of having repetitive thoughts or the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors. To the contrary, children with ASDs are not generally bothered by their repetitive thoughts and behaviors, and instead may be comforted by them.

Despite these differences, recent research shows that similar treatment is effective for both OCBs and OCD in children. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based treatment that has been established by the American Psychological Association as effective for children. A study of CBT for neurotypical children with anxiety (Wood et al.,) found:

▪ Childrens’ school performance improved and they attended school more regularly
▪ Children had more friends and better quality friendships
▪ Children got along better with family members
▪ Children had higher self-esteem

Most recently, the authors of this study adapted their neurotypical CBT protocol for children with ASDs and are getting similar very promising results.

Cape CBI offers specialized help for children with ASDs in the following areas:

• Developing more adaptable, less rigid behaviors
• Decreasing anxiety and stress related to unpredicatable/uncontrollable situations and occurrences
• Improving social awareness and appropriate interpersonal skills

About Us:

Cape CBI is a leader in the evidence-based treatment of OCD and related disorders for children, teens, families, and adults. Our practice offers individual, group, as well as customized intensive treatment programs for children and adolescents, especially those with OCD, anxiety and other related disorders including phobias, separation anxiety, school refusal, social phobia, panic disorder, compulsive hair pulling/skin picking, tic disorders, eating disorders, and cutting or other self-harming behaviors.

We use a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. Proven effective by empirical research, this therapeutic approach focuses on techniques for behavioral change and generally helps patients find rapid symptomatic relief for their issues. CBT is designed to be a brief, symptom-focused treatment that provides specific skills which clients can then use independently.

For more information, contact us at 508-274-9883 or