A couple of days ago I wrote about when people with OCD overshare. I threw the issue open on my Facebook page and discovered that many parents deal with not knowing what to do in the situation. Not too many of us have found coping mechanisms that work (other than waiting till our child is old enough and responsible enough to be at home alone, then just leaving when they start that behavior . . . and not answering when they dial the cellphone!!!).
This is never meant to be an “us vs. them” forum. No one asks to be born with OCD. They are not the enemy. I am coming out of the closet on this issue in order that we might encourage and be encouraged. Our children with OCD also need to be encouraged . . . We will work together to help them!
I am also convinced that people with autism/OCD will ultimately solve the riddles of autism/OCD, so we must continue to involve them in the conversations.
Notice that I mentioned that the people who have thus far dialogued about OCD and oversharing have all been parents. To me, that is telling because, especially when children with OCD/autism are young, parents may find themselves isolated, as the only people who interact with their child on a regular basis (except for teachers and others forced by the law to interact with them). There is a reason for that. Well, more than one reason, but let me throw this one right out there because it is another elephant in the room . . .
Many people will not voluntarily interact with a person with OCD. Because of the fact that they get going on a session of sharing and don’t stop till they have overshared, many people find them odd and off-putting. And sometimes people with OCD can actually cross a line into criminal oversharing (sharing sexual fantasies that have no part in normal human interaction and may actually be illegal, depending on the age of the person who is being forced to listen).
It is totally understandable that people who want to keep their head straight would flee at the sight of someone who overshares like that. The idea is not to build a world where oversharing is tolerated. It is to help our children with OCD learn how to not do this. The goal is to teach them where the line is drawn, then create in them a strong desire to not go over that line, regardless of what their OCD is telling them to do.
A related issue that has come up a lot in our chats on Facebook is the actual topic of this post (sorry for the long sidebar discussion!).
What do we do when our child with OCD constantly interrupts our every conversation or activity? I throw this one out there as one on which we have made some progress in my son’s 21 years but not as much as I need us to have made.
I have actually lost some friends over this one, or had friends remain close to me after we “agreed to disagree” about how much control I had in the situation. I can remember being told to “get a grip and make him stop interrupting you every time you are on the phone.” I can also remember hearing, “Okay, now we have just had the usual interruption of our phone conversation. I knew it was coming–I just did not know when it would happen.” And, sadly, I agreed with that friend. I also knew the interruption was coming at some point . . .
With a “normal” child, consistent consequences would eventually stop this from happening, right? So I must not have been imposing consistent consequences, right? So the thinking goes . . .
And in a world that had consistent rules that always governed human behavior, that would be true. Only this is not that world.
I tried two things. I tried ignoring my child as he interrupted. That did not work. He would only ratchet up his volume, higher and higher, until I could not hear my conversation. Remember Glenn Close saying in “Fatal Attraction” the words “I will not be ignored”? Any ideas why I call that film “Fatal Obsession”? She was only an outlaw version of a person with OCD, believing that people around her should be paying attention to her. For some reason that I can’t explain, to ignore my son for even ten minutes when he was young seemed to totally negate his personhood.
The other thing I tried was consequences after the fact. Of course, these were invisible to the friends on the phone or in a social setting with me, who saw me regularly stop my conversation with them to listen to my son’s litany of non-emergency observations. And, no matter how many hours my son spent in his room as a consequence of his interruptions (oddly, we would mostly have silence in the house then, as he totally understood the need to “do his penance” for his earlier actions), he would not outgrow his interruptions, as one normally expects young children to do.
What is working better now that he has the fine muscle control to write is to tell him to journal his observations and save them for later. This is not a foolproof method, but both his college instructors and I have noticed it does help his behavior to improve somewhat. He can spill his compulsions onto paper, confident that a parent or teacher will go over them with him later. Note: Make sure you do make time to communicate with your child with OCD later. The idea of this post is not to teach any of us how to totally ignore our child and the things he finds important. If you are seeking to do that, I encourage you that you need to change, too.
I also have learned to signal to him that I am involved in something like writing by wearing my headset, sometimes even if the music is not on!!! Yes, I sometimes have to remove it to listen to something he just has to say right this minute, but he has vastly improved in understanding that the headset means I am trying to follow one of my own thoughts to a logical conclusion without interruption. There were years I could never do that at all!!!
There is much I do not know and, as always, I stand ready to heed instruction from those who have found other things that work or that work better than my own coping mechanisms.
We need to have this conversation.