Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment (e.g. a parent, caregiver, or siblings). In infants and small children, typically between the ages of 2 months to 3 years, separation anxiety is a natural part of the developmental process. Unlike SAD, this process indicates healthy advancements in a child’s cognitive maturation and should not be considered a developing behavioral problem.
According to the American Psychology Association, separation anxiety disorder is the inappropriate and excessive display of fear and distress when faced with situations of separation from the home or from a specific attachment figure. The anxiety that is expressed is categorized as being atypical of the expected developmental level and age.The severity of the symptoms ranges from anticipatory uneasiness to full-blown anxiety about separation.
SAD may cause significant negative effects within areas of social and emotional functioning, family life, and physical health of the disordered individual. The duration of this problem must persist for at least four weeks and must present itself before a child is 18 years of age to be diagnosed as SAD, as specified by the DSM-IV.