Teachers quickly reach the understanding that if their students are not happy and healthy, teaching and learning become difficult. Early one school year, it was clear that a student, who I will call David, was not thriving but suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). This medical condition causes repetitive thoughts, which constitute the obsession part, and repetitive behaviors or compulsions, both of which are extremely difficult to control.
David’s story started with an increase in tardy arrivals. He was usually a responsible elementary student who loved learning and being challenged. Suddenly, he was walking in our classroom door late, three or four times in a week. Next, he began taking long trips to the restroom. Once, after he returned, I heard a student at his table team ask him, “Why do you smell like soap?” When I questioned him about those trips, David nodded, but clearly did not want to discuss it. After about a week and a half, I placed a phone call home, but had to leave a message. I also alerted our school nurse, who also agreed to contact mom. Often, when health issues occur, parents are more comfortable speaking with the school nurse first.
One day, as we were lining up for lunch, I got quite a shock: David jumped in front of me, nearly stepping on my sandals, tears running down his face, and his arms crossed in front of him. He could barely speak through the sobs, “It hurts! I want to go to the bathroom but I can’t at school!” As he lowered his arms, I noticed that the skin on his hands and arms, all the way up to his elbows, was pink. Right at the elbow, his skin was chapped in a big ring going around his arm. David and a trusted friend headed to the nurse’s office while I quickly led the class to lunch recess.
After school that day, I planned to call David's mom to talk about what had happened with her son at lunch. Before I could pick up the phone, I got a call from his mother, who poured out the story. She had recently divorced, and David was not adjusting well to the new yearly schedule of summers with his dad and school years with his mom.