School Issues

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Children with OCD often experience difficulty in school.

Life would be ideal if school students were able to put academics on hold while they are learning to control OCD. However this is not an option. OCD manifests various effects on school performance such as the inability to concentrate due to intrusive thoughts or rituals, the tedious rituals surrounding completing assigned tasks, obstructions during transitions between activities and switching classes, as well as behaviors attracting unwanted attention to the child.  Attending a regular classroom for children with OCD usually can be manageable.  We hope the following information helps you understand the law pertaining to children with disabilities, its practical application and how the OC Foundation of Western PA can help.



Reasonable Accommodations must be made to allow persons with disabilities to remain in the least restrictive environment for any major life activity.  Civil rights legislation provides that “no qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall be excluded from, denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination” in any program that receives federal funding.  This includes any education agency (e.g., schools) if even only a single of its activities or programs receives federal funding. Most private schools will also adhere to the standards of this act even if in the very rare case that they do not accept federal funding.

Federal Laws:

  • Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)
  • The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Pennsylvania State Law

  • Chapter 14 or the Pennsylvania Code

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Navigating through the school system when your child has OCD can seem overwhelming at times. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is a recognized disability under both federal and Pennsylvania state law which grants your child aid, modifications or accommodations in the classroom to make the learning experience positive without generating more stress on your child. A written plan should be designed with input from both school officials and the parents. This plan will serve as a guide to define the specific accommodations that your child requires in order to function and succeed in the school environment. This document should help to maintain a consistent environment throughout the school day with all your child’s teachers. These plans should be reviewed periodically with input from the parents as your child’s needs change. Parents can request input from the child’s therapist to help suggest accommodations, however, most therapists cannot meet directly with school officials.

A 504 plan is recommended for most children struggling with OCD.

  • Offers accommodations in the mainstream classroom for a medical condition such as OCD
  • If/when the accommodations are no longer required for optimal performance, this plan is removed from school records

Individual Education Plan (IEP) under the IDEA may be required in more severe cases.

  • Offers accommodations in either mainstream or segregated classroom for a recognized permanent disability
  • Functions under specific guidelines mandated for the design, review and implementation of accommodations
  • Remains as a permanent part of your child’s school records

Your child could be placed in a special education classroom if it is determined by the school that there are no reasonable accommodations available for your child to excel in the regular classroom. This may be the best option for your child if his/her OCD has become severe enough to require the additional individual attention afforded in this environment. It is recommended that you ensure that all other avenues have been explored prior to this type of program being implemented for your child.

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You are your child’s most effective advocate. Educate yourself and try to work with the school officials to come up with a rational plan.  YYou may want to consult OCD Chicago’s Education Station for examples of accommodations which deal with common issues surrounding children with OCD in the classroom.  Kids Together provides a list of agencies which can help with school issues. You can also find information at the Education Law Center of Pennsylvania at

Please keep in mind:

  • Your child’s teacher(s) are trying to maintain the most conducive learning environment for all of their students.
  • An adversarial relationship will not provide the best situation for your child.  
  • If tension is beginning to creep into the relationship between you and a specific educational representative with whom you are working, we recommend asking that an additional person such as a principal, counselor or teacher be present in the meetings.
  • If despite your best efforts, you are still experiencing resistance to your wishes to keep your child in the least restrictive environment, the Office of Dispute Resolution (1-800-222-3353) can provide guidance in methods to resolve issues or provide a neutral party to facilitate a resolution to either a 504 plan or IEP.
  • You may want to consider moving your child to another more cooperative school if things are not progressing and this is an option.
  • In a worst case scenario, you may need to contact legal counsel from a group which provides legal representation for parents dealing with these issues.

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The OC Foundation of Western PA can help to arrange a general training session in the school to provide school personnel with tools for recognizing and handling situations arising from a child’s OCD. We prefer that you approach the school about this opportunity as you have the connection with the staff. After the initial contact, we will work directly with the school to provide a training session appropriate for their specific audience. Generally these sessions are done by child therapists who specialize in treating OCD and a member of the OC Foundation of Western PA who has experience in school related issues. We do very much welcome input from the parents requesting this service to gather information we may need prior to the date of the training session. We respect the confidentiality of any information you provide about your child's situation and only incorporate suggested accommodations in a general manner so as to not identify your child's identity or situation. There is no cost to either the parents or the school district for these training programs.

You can also purchase “OCD In the Classroom” from the IOCDF. This program provides both written information and video examples of common situations which may occur in the classroom. The program is provided for parents and school personnel to view at their leisure.

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The OC Foundation of Western PA is affiliated with the International OCD Foundation
Obsessive Compulsive Foundation of Western PA, PO Box 81648, Pittsburgh, PA  15217
(412) END OCD 1 (412) 363-6231
copyright 2010