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Teacher Toolbox

Our obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) enhanced Family Based Mental Health service assists families whose children are experiencing serious emotional and/or behavioral disturbances. We know that teachers are incredibly important in the lives of the youth we serve. We want to provide you with resources to help you better understand obsessive compulsive disorder and how to aid students in your classroom. 

Brief Overview of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has a variety of clinical presentations and symptoms, but it is defined by the presence of both obsessions and compulsions that interfere with or impair daily functioning. For those with OCD, obsessions are intrusive thoughts, worrying thoughts, images, or urges that get stuck in one's head and that cause severe discomfort (anxiety, disgust, shame, or any unwanted feeling).

OCD impacts 2.2 million adults in America and 1 out of 3 patients develop symptoms during childhood. Treatment methods can vary from case to case, but typically through a combination of psychotherapy and prescribed medicine many patients find improvement in their quality of life. Many patients never need medication, but rely on intensive psychotherapy programs such as ERP. 

There are infinite forms of OCD, but the most common are: 

  • Checking: The need to check or receive reassurance for the fear of preventing damage or harm
  • Contamination: The fear of being dirty and that the dirt can lead to disease and harm of oneself or loved ones

  • Mental Contamination: Similar to regular contamination, however, it exists solely on an emotional level, and is almost always caused by interaction with other people causing a patient to “feel contaminated”

  • Hoarding: The inability to discard useless or worn-out possessions for fear that you may one day need it

  • Ruminations: Focusing on specific thoughts or concepts to the point of obsession.

  • Intrusive thoughts: Repetitive, uncontrolled, and obsessional thoughts that are often disturbing or violent

  • Symmetry and Orderliness: The obsessive need for neatness is caused by the fear that harm will occur if things are out of place

What Behaviors Should I Look for in My Classroom?

Every student experiences OCD in a different way, so the impact on your classroom will be different with each student. Being aware of your students' behaviors and recognizing atypical behavior, can allow a student to seek interventions when needed. Here is a short list of ways in which OCD can manifest in a classroom: 

  • Appears to be daydreaming or lost in their thoughts

  • Lack of engagement around planning activities

  • Purposeful avoidance of specific activities  

  • Disrupting lessons or deviating from assigned tasks

  • Late to class after transitions

  • Limited peer interaction

  • Struggling in coursework

  • Inability to, or increased anxiety, when touching specific objects

  • Excessive tiredness

  • Unable to write, draw, or talk, although capable

  • Physical discomfort 

  • Lack of ability to concentrate or hyperfocus 

  • Repetitive actions or getting stuck in a cycle of actions

This list is not exhaustive and OCD can look different for every student. All of these can lead to struggles in school and potential learning challenges

Talking with Students and Parents

If you notice symptoms of OCD (or any behavioral/mental health challenge) in a student, there are steps that you can take to help which include talking to the students and the parents.  ​

Talking to Students

  • When approaching your student, it is important for them to understand that you are taking their concerns and behavior seriously. Validating how they feel and letting them know you understand their stressors can help build trust between you and the student. 

  • Make sure you choose a safe space to talk to your student. Don't ever shame them or call them out in front of the space. The goal of your conversation should be to connect them with help - not disconnect them further. 

  • Continue to build trust with your student through your words and actions. Let them know they are safe and you want them to succeed. When they are struggling it is ok to come and ask you for help. Make sure you are kind and consistent in your tone, approach, and words. 

  • Help the students build a game plan for your classroom. Together you can design a way for the student to be successful in your classroom.

Talking to Parents

  • As you know, the best teacher and parent relationships start before there is a problem. Make sure you reach out to new parents and introduce yourself at the start of the term and then regularly. 

  • Set a meeting to talk to the parent. If they are hesitant to meet, set up a time for them to visit the classroom. 

  • Explain what you have observed and how it is impacting the education of their child. Present the information in a clear and caring way. Cite examples when you can and discuss strategies that can be used in the classroom. 

  • Make sure you emphasize that challenges are common and that together you are going to work to make their child's experience at school successful.

  • Answer the questions you can and make sure you have resources available for the parent to explore. 

  • If necessary, have conversations with peers and administrators regarding the behaviors and your observations. Ask for their experience and expertise in working though these situations. 

Supporting Students

The support in the classroom can look as different as OCD itself. Don't worry some things might not work for certain students, it's ok. If you work together with the student, parent, professionals, and administrators, you will find solutions to improve the experience and outcome of the student. ​

One of the most important things you can do is be knowledgeable about OCD and its effects on functioning inside of the classroom. With this information, you can better assist in the development of a formalized Individual Education Plan (if needed) or informal classroom supports. You will also be able to develop interventions specifically geared toward your student's needs. When you begin using interventions, make sure you are gathering relevant data to monitor and chart progress. It is important to celebrate both behavior and academic successes. Finally, maintaining communication channels between home, school, and other key support people will assist in creating a consistent environment for the student to thrive. 


Interventions should be time-specific as symptomatology changes. Here is a list of suggested accommodations to help you to get started in planning with your stand. 

Additional Resources

Our Family Based Mental Health OCD speciality started in 2017. We received feedback from local professionals in the community about the high need for this specific program. We began with one team, comprised of one Master’s and one Bachelor’s-level clinician, and then expanded to two teams. Our teams participate in ongoing clinical consultation with a graduate from the International OCD Foundation’s Behavior Therapy Training Institute who also has a strong background in family therapy. They also participate in the Western Psychiatric Hospital Family Based training, which is a 3-year certification process. Along with weekly in-office supervision, our teams have direct opportunities to enhance development and learning.

Teams are able to provide in-home training to family members and other providers on the treatment team (schools, case managers, etc.) Teams work to provide psychoeducation to family members on evidence based, best practice treatment for OCD--Exposure with Response Prevention (ERP) and are able to use family therapy skills to assist in dynamic changes to reduce accommodations within the home for treatment refractory clients.

Our Family Based staff utilize various techniques to develop appropriate goals for clients, focusing not just on OCD and ERP treatment, but also the systemic family shifts that can support this treatment process:

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