Separation anxiety is excessive anxiety about becoming separated from mother, father or any other family in general. Separation anxiety can be found in all children, as attachment is a normal stage of child development. But for children with special needs, this anxiety can be heightened. When your special needs child has difficulty interacting in social situations or adjusting to sensory stimulations, your child is likely to react with even more severity to the thought of being separated from you and your home.

This behavior is expected, yet manageable with the correct action, so here are some simple ways to help remove the separation anxiety from your special needs child.

Set your child up for success

It is common for children, and especially special needs children, to have a harder time thinking clearly if they are not sufficiently rested and fed. A healthy mind comes with a healthy body. In order to start the process of removing separation anxiety, make sure that your child is getting enough sleep, nutritious food, and a good amount of physical activity. This will help your child be in the best condition as you move forward with trying to take the next steps.

Take small steps (literally)

If your child is refusing to sleep without you at night or to let you leave the room after you drop him/her off at school or camp, it is likely that this adjustment is just too big for your child to handle all at once. Try taking literal small steps, for example:

  1. Night one: allow your child to sleep at the foot of your bed
  2. Night two: allow your child to sleep a few feet away from your bed
  3. Night three: allow your child to sleep in the open doorway of your bedroom
  4. Night four: allow your child to sleep in the hallway to your bedroom with the door open
  5. Night five: allow your child to sleep in the hallway of your bedroom but with the door closed

Continue this gradual process night by night in order to allow your child to adjust to the feeling of sleeping further away from you. It may take a little shorter or longer than expected depending on your child’s individual struggles, but if you implement these small steps, bedtime is bound to get easier with time.

Make a goodbye ritual

There are bound to be situations where you must say goodbye to your child. For these cases, create a sweet and routine goodbye ritual that you will do with your child each time you say goodbye. It could be as exciting as a full dance and song or as simple as blowing a kiss, but this consistent goodbye ritual will help your child feel a developing bond with you even as you say goodbye. Such rituals also help children maintain the routine feeling that they crave with each goodbye, making it less frightening to follow through with.

Use a magic object

It sounds silly, but this tip actually works. Since children can’t take their parents with them everywhere they go, parents should give them something they can. Make a magic “goodbye object” for your child to carry around whenever you are separated. This comfort object can be anything from a picture of your family to a special bracelet, or even a stuffed animal. Remind your child that you will be together again soon, and that in the meantime, taking a look at the magic goodbye object will provide a warm, comforting feeling.

Ask for help

If you find yourself struggling to remove separation anxiety from your special needs child on your own and you have tried the tips above and more, perhaps it is time to reach out for help. Interventions like play therapy, talk therapy or medication may be necessary depending on the extent of your child’s struggle. Therapists and doctors can certainly help you manage through these developmental challenges, so don’t be afraid to ask for assistance from those available and ready to aid you in meeting your child’s needs.