Separation Anxiety in Children with Angelman Syndrome

Emily Malcolm, PhD avatar

by Emily Malcolm, PhD |

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Children with Angelman syndrome often experience anxiety.

In fact, a study based on the records of 53 Angelman patients indicated that just over half of them exhibited anxiety, among other symptoms.

Another study examined 100 individuals with Angelman syndrome and found that 40% had anxiety concerns, 70% had a preferred caregiver, and more than half showed distress when they were separated from their caregivers.

These findings indicate that separation anxiety is a concern for Angelman syndrome patients. Such anxiety is usually more prevalent in children.

What is separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is a normal stage of childhood development. Children are more comfortable with their primary caregiver and are anxious and upset when this person is not present. Most children outgrow this stage by about age 3.

However, children with Angelman syndrome, among whom anxiety is common, may not outgrow their fears or concerns about separation from their caregivers.

This poses a special concern for parents whose children have Angelman, as no single caregiver can be available all the time. Parents and caregivers have to sleep, eat, and care for themselves. Many parents must work and have to arrange for alternative care, whether that is provided by school, daycare, a health professional, or a combination of these. Accidents also happen — parents can get sick or injure themselves.

Therefore, it is important for children to feel comfortable with more caregivers than only their parent(s).

How can I reduce my child’s separation anxiety?

Talk to your child’s care team. Ask them what they can recommend. They are your best resources for information on treatments and management. Some suggestions from the care team may include behavioral therapy, or in more severe cases, medication.

What is behavioral therapy?

Behavioral therapy involves reinforcing positive behaviors while ignoring negative ones.

No studies have yet been done to test the efficacy of behavioral therapy in treating anxiety in Angelman patients. However, there are promising data from children on the autism spectrum, indicating that this approach also may be useful with Angelman syndrome. Many resources indicate that these approaches can be beneficial for special needs children, though, of course, every child is different.

If your child is anxious about staying alone at school or daycare, behavioral therapy might involve staying within eyesight of your child in the first few days, gradually moving further and further away.

It also may be a good idea to speak with your child’s teacher about not using negative language in referring to when you will come back. Instead of saying “Your mom/dad isn’t here,” saying something like, “Your mom will be back after nap time” may help. This gives a definite time frame to your absence, which will be easier for your child to understand.

Many children have difficulty telling time, so using reference events — nap time, dinnertime, playtime — may be better. Make sure that you keep your promises if you say you will be back by a specific time.

Which medication may help?

There are a number of antidepressants that may be used to treat anxiety in children and teens; some Angelman patients may benefit from some of these.

It is important to note that individuals with Angelman may be more sensitive to these medications and often respond to lower doses. These medications also may more easily lead to side effects in these patients.

Discuss possible therapies and medications with your child’s care team will help you decide what is the best strategy for helping your child. Using behavioral therapy, medication, or their combination may help reduce separation anxiety in children with Angelman.


Last updated: Mar. 11, 2020


Angelman Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.