Written by Jana Angeles
It can be difficult to manage separation anxiety in children with special needs. Although this can be challenging, it is normal for all parents to experience this as it is part of the developmental stage in children. This occurs when they are about eight months old. However, children with special needs can feel a heightened sense of emotions when they experience separation anxiety.
It can take years of family activities and encouragement to reduce the occurrence of it. There are some ways that can help reduce separation anxiety. All it takes is resilience and a positive attitude to be able to take care of your child while encouraging them to have a sense of independence.
Start With Brief Separations
Brief separations can help your child transition to a new environment much easier. You can start slowly by leaving them in a new environment for five minutes while increasing the time goal each day. Consider talking to the teachers of your childcare/school about your arrangement and let them know in advance that it could take weeks for your child to overcome separation anxiety.
You can also try and leave them alone in a play facility for an hour and see how they react to the environment. Repetition and having patience is key to be able to handle these brief separations from your child.
Utilise Positive Language
It can be tough not being around your kids 24/7 because they could experience separation anxiety if a teacher/guardian has used language that appears negative for the child. Saying things like “Your mother is gone” or “She left you” can make them feel upset and confused by this.
Be cautious and take the time to ask the teachers at school to use positive language such as “Your mother will be back soon” or “She will pick you up at 3pm”. This will give them assurance that you will be returning, preventing any cases of separation anxiety in your child.
Create A Social Storyboard
Having a storyboard can improve your child’s confidence in being separated from you. Detailing their journey and what their day-to-day activities will look like can help them transition to a new environment much easily.
Taking photos of the caregivers can help them identify who is looking after them and what to expect for the rest of the day. During the holidays, you can do the same thing if you have someone else that will look after your child.
Buy or Make Them A Magic Bracelet
Purchasing or making a special bracelet can help your child feel comfortable if they are separated from you because you’ve given them something to remember you by.
You can buy matching ones so incase they are about to feel anxious about where they are, they can look at it and feel calm. When making the bracelet, using familiar colours or materials will make it unique and can also give them a sense of stability when it comes to their emotions.
Take Field Trips Together
It’s important to have a sense of wonder when it comes to your child and taking them to different environments can help increase their knowledge about the world and its surroundings.
Though it can be difficult sometimes to take care of a child with special needs, it’s important to acknowledge that they can immerse themselves in an environment and take curiosity in things that are brand new. It can stimulate their brain and take them out of their comfort zones. It gives them the opportunity to be open and embrace new adventures.
Separation anxiety in children with special needs is a challenge that will bring good and bad times. Always be open to their needs and only approach methods that you feel can help reduce their feelings of anxiety.
Take the time and seek help from health professionals, but also take cues from your child and see what works. Evaluate the pros and cons but also remember why you are doing this. Giving them a chance to explore their own independence is beautiful and something all parents should strive for in all their children.