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Body Focused Obsessions in Children with Sensorimotor OCD
How Blinking, Swallowing, and Breathing Can Become Distressing

Body-focused obsessions and compulsions in OCD are commonly referred to as sensorimotor OCD. This specific subtype of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is prevalent in children and can be incredibly distressing for them as the obsessions are part of normal ongoing and automatic processes in the body. Children with sensorimotor OCD develop a hyper-awareness of a bodily function and sensations (e.g., breathing, heart rate, swallowing, blinking) and become fixated on specific aspects of the process such as how often or “completely” have they occurred. Because of the necessary nature of these bodily functions, the distress that accompanies these sensations for children can become debilitating. If the child becomes anxious or distressed when unable to perform the rituals, it is a predictor of OCD.

Children suffering from body-focused obsessions are acutely aware of bodily sensations and engage in compulsive behaviors attempting to control the sensation or how often it occurs. On occasion body focused rituals are accompanied by mental rituals, this can include repeating a word/phrase,  counting along with the sensation that holds their fixation, or continuing to engage in the behavior a specific amount of times.

Below are general, but very common, symptoms and avoidance behaviors that are seen in children suffering from Body-Focused or Sensorimotor OCD :

Hyperawareness related obsessions:

  • swallowing
  • breathing
  • blinking
  • bladder and digestive processes
  • tongue/mouth movement

Compulsions may include:  

  • Repeating actions or behaviors over and over for no apparent reason (swallowing, blinking, etc)
  • Engage in avoidance and distraction behaviors
  • Counting rituals
  • Evenness or symmetry in the behavior
  • Continuing to engage in the behavior until it feels “right”

Sensorimotor OCD can be complicated and debilitating to the child if left untreated. It is imperative to work with a specialist who is trained to treat OCD in children utilizing evidence-based treatment such as Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), a specific type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Guidelines established by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) for the treatment of pediatric OCD recommend ERP as the first line of treatment for children and adolescents with mild to moderate cases of OCD; a combination of ERP and medication is recommended for severe cases of OCD.

At GroundWork Counseling in Orlando, our goal is to provide children and teens with OCD treatment that is brief, evidence-based, and effective. Our child anxiety and OCD therapist specializes in the treatment of OCD in children and adolescents and has received extensive training to provide qualified and evidence-based care to children and teens struggling with the disorder.

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Questions for OCD providers & therapists

Learn More: International OCD Foundation 

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