Childhood Hypersensitivity Linked to OCD

Adult onset could be connected to oral and tactile sensitivities in childhood, TAU research finds

In childhood, rituals like regular schedules for meal, bath, and bed times are a healthy part of behavioral development. But combined with oral and tactile sensitivities, such as discomfort at the dentist or irritation caused by specific fabrics, these rituals could be an early warning sign of adult Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

According to Prof. Reuven Dar of Tel Aviv University's Department of Psychology, hypersensitivity and excessive adherence to childhood rituals may foreshadow the onset of OCD as the child ages. He first suspected the link while working with OCD patients who reported sensitivity to touch and taste as children. Now, in the first comprehensive study of its kind, Prof. Dar and his fellow researchers have established a direct correlation between sensory processing — the way the nervous system manages incoming sensory information — and ritualistic and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

The study, which appears in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, suggests that when children experience heightened levels of sensitivity, they develop ritualistic behaviors to better cope with their environment. In the long term, this is one potential pathway to OCD.

Connecting the behavioral dots

Two studies were devised to map the connection between sensory processing, rituals, and OCD. In the first, parents of kindergarten children were asked to complete three questionnaires on their child's behaviour — their level of ritualism, such as the need to repeat certain acts or to order objects in a particular way; their level of anxiety, with questions relating to reaction to strangers, worrying about outcomes of events, and attachment to family members; and last, their reactions to everyday sensory events such as being touched or exposed to unusual tastes or smells.

In the second study, the researchers asked 314 adult participants to answer surveys online in relation to their OCD tendencies, their anxiety levels, and their past and current sensitivity to oral and tactile stimulation.

Results from both studies indicated a strong connection between compulsive tendencies and hypersensitivity. In children, hypersensitivity was an indicator of ritualism, whereas in adults it was related to OCD symptoms. As a whole, these findings provide preliminary support for the idea that such sensitivities are a precursor to OCD symptoms. When children are extremely sensitive to certain types of touch or smell, they can feel that they are being attacked, or that the environment is threatening them, Prof. Dar believes. Ritualism could develop as a defence mechanism, helping these children to regain a sense of control, which is also a symptom of adults with OCD.

Identifying the turning point

Next Prof. Dar hopes to conduct a longitudinal study to better understand the connection between hypersensitivity in childhood and adult OCD, following a large sample of children who experience oral and tactile sensitivities through to adulthood.

Of course, Prof. Dar says, all children have particular habits and preferences, and they're not all precursors to OCD. So what should parents watch for to correctly characterize normal and potentially pathological behavior? "If you see that a child is very rigid with rituals, becoming anxious if unable to engage in this behavior, it is more alarming," he explains. Also, age is a factor. A habit exhibited by a five- or six-year-old is not necessarily a predictor of OCD. If the same behavior continues to the ages of eight and above, it could be a warning sign, especially if accompanied by anxiety or distress.


For more psychology and psychiatry news from Tel Aviv University, click here.

Keep up with the latest AFTAU news on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/AFTAUnews.

 

 

All active news articles
 

Quick links

Other recent news

  • Making Sense of Our Senses
  • Revive Your Smartphone in 30 Seconds
  • Is Stress a Perk?
  • TAU and Northwestern University Become "Sister Universities"
  • Drawing Conclusions
  • In Memoriam: Avraham Yaski, Founding Father of Israeli Architecture
  • Award-winning Producer Steve Tisch Will Chair Tel Aviv International Student Film Festival at TAU
  • Corporate Layoff Strategies Are Increasing Workplace Gender and Racial Inequality
  • The Knesset Comes Calling
  • Not Just What You Eat
  • Conquering Computer Armies
  • Restoring Order in the Brain
  • Listening to Whispers at the Water Cooler
  • TAU's Prof. Israel Finkelstein Receives Prestigious Delalande-Guérineau Prize
  • Off with Your Glasses
  • Pulitzer Prize Historian Saul Friedlander and MIT Visionary Marvin Minsky Among 2014 Dan David Prize Winners
  • TAU Scientists Honored for Cutting-Edge Proposals in Melanoma Research
  • New Study Finds the Early Universe "Warmed Up" Later than Previously Believed
  • Finding Israel's First Camels
  • A Digital Test for Toxic Genes
  •