Obsessive Compulsive Behaviors in Children With Down Syndrome

by Shellie Braeuner Google

    Down syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by a tripling of chromosome 21. This tripling is why this genetic disorder is sometimes called trisomy 21. This disorder affects about one in every 700 births. People with this disorder have distinct facial characteristics and moderate to mild intellectual disability.

    Many young children exhibit obsessive behavior. A 2-year-old might not be able to sleep without her favorite stuffed animal. A 3-year-old might insist on the same food, story or video day after day. These are completely normal behaviors. While adults understand that a video will end the same way every time, children often need to experience this phenomena to truly understand the concept. In addition, stress causes many children to cling to the familiar. Even the happy stress of a vacation might cause a child to have a tantrum if she doesn't eat at familiar times or sleep in her favorite pajamas.

    Down syndrome children have similar cognitive needs. However, because a child with trisomy 21 might have slower development, she won't develop at the same pace as other children. For example, she might still be attached to a stuffed animal at age 6 and refuse to sleep without the item. In a similar way, because of slowed cognitive development, it can take longer for a child with Down syndrome to tire of a specific food, story or video. In addition, the Down syndrome child might show more intensity toward her obsession. She might cry or have a temper tantrum if she misses her favorite video or her favorite food isn’t available.

    According to the National Down Syndrome Society, autism spectrum disorders affect between 5 percent and 7 percent of all children with Down syndrome. This combination presents special challenges during diagnosis. For example, one of the first signs of both Down syndrome and autism is delays in language development. It might be hard for parents to distinguish the two. But when delayed language is coupled with the inability to handle changes in routine, parents might want to look at autistic spectrum disorders.

    When parents first notice obsessive behaviors, take the child to the pediatrician. The family doctor can help parents rule out any type of medical reason for the behavior. Once physical reasons have been ruled out, parents should take the time to watch and note the behaviors. Specifically, look for what the child does right before, during and after the behavior. This can help pinpoint causes and effects of the obsession. For example, a child may start chewing on his bib just before the babysitter comes. This might be a direct result of the anxiety of his parents leaving or a babysitter arriving. Helping the child deal with the anxiety will stop the behavior.

    About the Author

    Based in Nashville, Shellie Braeuner has been writing articles since 1986 on topics including child rearing, entertainment, politics and home improvement. Her work has appeared in "The Tennessean" and "Borderlines" as well as a book from Simon & Schuster. Braeuner holds a Master of Education in developmental counseling from Vanderbilt University.

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