Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Benefit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

When you live with children who have diagnosed special needs, you learn to look at things differently. I can assure you it's a completely different matter to sit in a college (or other) classroom, as I have, to learn about various pyschological disorders, than it is to live with someone who has one (or more). More than a few of our ten children have diagnosed disorders, so there are times when it becomes burdensome to live with the chaos this brings to our family life.

Our youngest son has been an interesting child to watch grow up. He is now eleven, and he has been with us (except for a few months) since the time he was nine months of age. From the early moments of his presence with us we knew Dominyk was a unique child. When he was learning to walk he would run as fast as he could, colliding into a wall without any awareness that he was supposed to feel pain. He would grunt, pick himself up and run in a new direction, until he would fall head over heels once again. And again. It has always been difficult to explain to those who do not know him (or us) why he is constantly bruised. Once, however, they witness him in action it makes more sense.

Through the years his activity level has moderated (due both to maturity and to medication) somewhat, while the characteristics of his OCD have become more pronounced. Typically he will become fixated on a phrase or a concept and find it impossible to think of much else. It is the reason why he continues to have almost continually bruises and scabs on his arms and legs. He begins to itch a mosquito bite, for example, and cannot quit until he has an ugly reminder in the form of damaged skin. A year or so ago it was a loose tooth in its very early stages of detaching. He became so committed to getting the tooth out that he found a way to wind fish line around the tooth in question to the point where we had to take him to a dentist to have the tooth (and the fish line) extracted.

For the past few weeks, however, his obsession has been pop, as in soda pop. All he can think about is drinking pop, and he begs and pleads for soda every few minutes. We purchase very little pop these days (for health and other reasons), especially because if it is in the house he will not stop until all of it is completely consumed. We have developed a plan that helps both Dominyk and us. If he has a successful day at school and completes his homework he may have one sugar-free pop.

I have extended the privilege slightly so that if he walks with me I will often buy him a sugar-free drink after our time together. For the past week or more he has been my committed walking partner, which is nice for me. Although I typically like to walk a little longer than he (I prefer to walk 3-4 miles at a time, while he does better with 2 miles), I figure it's good exercise for both of us and our dog, and one sugar-free soda isn't going to permanently damage him.

There are some benefits to parenting a child with OCD, and I guess this is one them: a committed walking partner.

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