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Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder is a disorder that affects children who are afraid to be separated from the main caretakers in their lives, even to go to a friend's house or school. When separated, they are constantly afraid that something horrible will happen to either themselves or to their primary caretaker (they or the caretaker will die, for instance).

About 4% of children are extremely anxious about leaving their parents. Symptoms may develop at any time during childhood, but often arise following an event that, for the child, is traumatic: a scare, a serious separation, stress in the family, a significant change.

The child often fears for the safety of the parent, cries, withdraws from activities, and seems inconsolable. Although these symptoms may abate on their own, often professional assistance is needed to prevent Separation Anxiety Disorder from evolving into agoraphobia or other anxiety disorders in adulthood.

Symptoms of Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • persistently and excessively fearful or reluctant to be alone or without major attachment figures at home or without significant adults in other settings
  • persistent reluctance or refusal to go to school or elsewhere because of fear of separation
  • recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated
  • repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated
  • persistent and excessive worry about losing, or about possible harm befalling, major attachment figures
  • persistent and excessive worry that an untoward event will lead to separation from a major attachment figure (e.g., getting lost or being kidnapped)
  • persistent reluctance or refusal to go to sleep without being near a near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home
  • repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation

Diagnostic criteria for Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Developmentally inappropriate and excessive anxiety concerning separation from home or from those to whom the individual is attached, as evidenced by three (or more) of the symptoms described earlier.
  • The duration of the disturbance is at least 4 weeks.
  • The onset is before age 18 years.
  • The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, academic (occupational), or other important areas of functioning.
  • The disturbance does not occur exclusively during the course of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder and, in adolescents and adults, is not better accounted for by Panic Disorder With Agoraphobia.

Treatment of Separation anxiety disorder

The most common treatments for Separation Anxiety Disorder are often used in combination with each other:

Anti-anxiety medication (with children, medications should be avoided if possible, used only with extreme caution in very small dosages, and only as a temporary measure if necessary, until other interventions are underway).

Family therapy (including the parents and even siblings) - this reduces the sense of "it's your problem," addresses the reality that one child's problems affect everyone else in the family, and also accounts for the probability that something in the parents' lives or parenting style may be contributing to the problem in the first place.

Play therapy (using toys, puppets, games, and art materials for expression of feelings).

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (challenging negative thoughts and instilling alternative behaviors) - more useful with adolescents.

Relaxation techniques (deep breathing, self-soothing language, bio/neurofeedback).

Facts and Tips about Separation Anxiety Disorder

  • Separation anxiety disorder is an emotional situation or psychological problem.
  • Person with this disorder has too much fear concerning separation from family members and closely attached people.
  • This disorder mainly occurred in children.
  • Stress, depression, nightmares regarding separation, giddiness, vomiting are the symptoms of separation anxiety disorder.
  • Parent should give love and support to their children.
  • Caretaker should avoid mistreatment and cruelty.

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