Separation Anxiety Disorder

Categorized as an anxiety disorder, separation anxiety is diagnosed when there is a developmentally inappropriate amount of anxiety when separated from a loved one. Children may exhibit social withdrawal, sadness, difficulty concentrating, even apathy. Diagnostic criteria include:

  • recurrent excessive distress when separation from home or 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 school or elsewhere because of fear of separation
  • 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 sleep without being near a near a major attachment figure or to sleep away from home
  • repeated nightmares involving the theme of separation
  • repeated complaints of physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, nausea, or vomiting) when separation from major attachment figures occurs or is anticipated

David’s approach to treating separation anxiety is to use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help identify and manage the anxiety. Play and art therapy techniques may be utilized with younger children. The need for medication may be addressed, depending on the severity of the anxiety.

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