July 26, 2009

I’ve never seen anything better than this (adapted from Leslie Packer’s handout on schoolbehavior.com) to help people without obsessive-compulsive disorder understand what OCD is like.


As you read the paragraph below, count all the times the letter “e” occurs. You must count and read simultaneously–you can’t read and then go back and count, and you can’t keep track on a piece of paper. You have to do the counting in your head for this exercise. If at any point you lose track of the count or aren’t 100% sure that you’ve counted correctly, you’ll have to go back to the beginning of the paragraph and start again. If you end up with the wrong number, or if you don’t completely understand the content of the paragraph when you’re done, you’ve failed, and you don’t get another chance.

Here goes:

Children who have OCD often have hidden or silent compulsive rituals. These hidden rituals often (You’d better get this right, or else.) confuse teachers who may look at a child and not (Do you have the right number of “e”s?) realize what is going on internally that may make (24, 23, 25, 26) it almost (If you get this wrong you are going to die.) impossible for the child to function normally at (If you don’t die, everyone you love will come to hate you.) times. Young children often don’t realize that what they are (Or maybe it’ll be your brother or mother who dies. And it’ll be your fault.) doing is “abnormal,” and older children, teens, or adults are often (Wait, was it 48 or 50? Or 36?) embarrassed by their rituals and won’t tell you about (Would you wager the thing you value most in the world that you have the correct number?) them. (Are you absolutely sure? Absolutely? Really? What if you got it wrong? 37, 56, 28, 95, 46, 37, 75, how about now?)

Now go and make a joke about how OCD you are about your carpet being straight.

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7 Responses to I’ve never seen anything better than this

  1. Sharon says:

    I’m definitely bookmarking that site, especially since I’m going back to teaching in September.

  2. Countervail says:

    What does it say about me that I didn’t seem to have a problem with the activity? :-

  3. TED says:

    God, I hope my carpets aren’t straight. If they are, they must have been traumatized by some of the things they’ve seen. Then again, I guess that would explain the rug burns: they’re clearly lashing out.

  4. initials says:

    I’m quite glad that I just had to live through cripling self-doubt in highschool. If I’d had OCD, too, especially in Orchestra (I plotted fingerings and bowings for 1st violins, 2nd violins and violas), I’d have been broken long before I had a chance to start drinking in college.

  5. Birdie says:

    Sweetheart, I finished your book a couple of days ago. It and this post have given me a glimpse into the tortured existence of my daughter and my husband, both of whom only last year were correctly diagnosed with OCD. Theirs, like yours, expresses itself in runaway anxiety. I’ve lived with my husband for 38 years, and I had no idea what was going on with his desire for control. Only in this past year could I respond appropriately to help him stop the train.

    Thank you so much for your eloquent pleas for understanding. We who love those with OCD need this window into their fears.

  6. Esther says:

    I know this comment time ran its course some time ago, but I can’t get this exercise out of my head. EVERY potential teacher should read this! It would greatly improve how we relate to students who are not doing the task we want them to do, in the time-frame we expect.
    One teenage boy I worked with had to sharpen his pencil (would not use pen) after every word so that the point was sharp and the word was written very clearly. If the word was long, it might take two or three sharpenings to get through it. Even my understanding he HAD a problem did not really help the internal frustration I felt at it taking a week to write a paragraph. (Nowadays we’d be typing it out or something else).
    This is a huge problem with many of our special ed students in particular, and we need to better appreciate their daily struggles to get through life.
    Thanks for sharing this. I am passing it on to many.

  7. Anonymous (sorry, my usual monogram sig is alas not lipogrammatical) says:

    Wait, that’s not my OCD-simulating paragraph! It’s way too tough. This is what you want to do your counting task on. Go on, try it now. Just don’t tally A’s or I’s, and you’ll do all right: you couldn’t possibly find it as tricky, as dauntingly difficult, as that wrong paragraph that Manhattan’s “Dr. Faustus MD” found WWW-surfing. So you can go back to joking about your compulsion for flooring orthogonality. Though truly, how could anybody think Mr. Swish of all folks would own a straight rug? That ill fits this blog’s spirit; try a gay shag 😉

    (Just ran across this fun blog a day or two ago; “Dr. F” and I go back many moons to Harvard’s Music 180 class — JD was, um, but four lustra old at that point, I about six.)


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