Imagine a school bus driver and his dilemma when a student refuses to get off at her stop. The first grader is frozen to her seat in tears because she cannot see her mother from the bus window as usual. The mother is standing in the yard waiting for her child as always, but sees that the bus drives away. The frustrated driver returns the child back to the school. An aggravated principal meets with the parent over the incident shaming the child as she throws her hands up in the air saying, “I have kindergarteners who walk home alone!” The distraught parent intervenes with the principal’s inappropriate statements, but leaves having to acknowledge the reality of a new manifestation of an ongoing problem. She is diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder at the age of seven.
Separation anxiety is said to have a childhood onset earlier than the median age of any specific phobia. Are children with separation anxiety bound to adult anxiety disorders? Studies are making the connection between childhood separation anxiety and increased risk of subsequent disorders in adulthood. There is an estimated 33% to 40% chance that a child diagnosed with Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) will develop another psychiatric disorder between ages nineteen and thirty. Continued studies will help clinicians gain understanding and develop preventative treatment for children with SAD into adulthood (Lewinsohn, Holm-Denoma, & Joiner, 2008).
A Review of the Literature
Childhood Separation Anxiety Disorder
Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is prevalent in 4.1% of children aged 7 – 11 and 3.9% in children 12 – 14 years old in the United States ("Separation Anxiety Disorder Related," n.d.). SAD onset is most common during the ages of seven to twelve. Among the causes include a genetic predisposition, mothers who had a stressful pregnancy, a traumatic event, a change in environment (a move or loss of pet/loved-one), an overprotective parent or a combination of these. It is reported that 50% - 75% of children with SAD come from low socioeconomic environments (Dryden-Edwards, 2014).
It is normal for children to experience separation anxiety between 3 to 18 months as they see the parent walk out of sight. It is also common for a child of preschool age to show signs of discomfort when left with a sitter, a play group or day care. When separation anxiety becomes a diagnosis is when the fear starts disrupting family life. A clinician must make that judgment based on qualifying behaviors (Barlow and Durand, 2011, p.145). Some behavioral signs include a preoccupation in knowing where the parent or person of attachment is at all times, having fear of falling asleep without the presence of their “safe” person and experiencing nightmares of separation. Physical symptoms can consist of complaints of stomach aches, headaches, dizziness, shallow breathing and even palpitations. Other signs include resistance to go to school, decline invitations to friends and outside events...