Review: Exteroceptive Sensory Abnormalities in Childhood and Adolescent Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Critical Review

J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2020 Jan;59(1):78-87. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2019.06.007. Epub 2019 Jun 29.


Objective: Childhood anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are defined by fear, worry, and uncertainty, but there is also evidence that affected children possess exteroceptive sensory abnormalities. These sensory features may often instigate symptoms and cause significant distress and functional impairment. In addition, a purported class of conditions known as "sensory processing disorders" may significantly overlap with childhood anxiety and OCD, which provides further support for a connection between abnormal sensation and fear-based psychopathology.

Method: The current review was conducted to synthesize and to critically evaluate the existing research on exteroceptive sensory abnormalities in childhood anxiety and OCD. Because of the paucity of research in this area, studies with adult populations were also briefly reviewed.

Results: The review found significant support for the notion that sensory abnormalities are common in children with anxiety disorders and OCD, but there are significant limitations to research in this area that prevent firm conclusions.

Conclusion: Potential avenues for future research on sensory features of pediatric anxiety and OCD are discussed.

Keywords: OCD; anxiety; childhood psychopathology; psychosomatics; sensory processing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anxiety / complications*
  • Anxiety / physiopathology*
  • Anxiety / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / physiopathology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology
  • Fear
  • Humans
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / complications*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Perceptual Disorders / complications*
  • Perceptual Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Perceptual Disorders / psychology