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Social phobia: what it is and what it is not.
There are lots of inferences in the media today about pharmaceutical companies manufacturing social anxiety disorder out of shyness in order to sell their product. The term social anxiety disorder itself contributes to this erroneous perception. It was introduced to provide a better understanding of what social phobia actually is but, instead, it seems to have impacted on the credibility of social phobia as serious disorder. Social phobia is not shyness. It is far more devastating. It can prove fatal.
Unfortunately because of this confusion over shyness, social phobic children are still not being diagnosed. Shyness is not necessarily a symptom of social phobia at all and, in fact, many social phobic children (adults, too) are not in the least bit shy. Some of the real signs of the condition, and the reasons for their not being recognized as such, are:
- Any kind of avoidance which, in the child, is generally interpreted as not wanting to participate rather than not being able to.
- Refusal to make eye contact - taken for shyness or slyness, depending on the circumstances.
- Refusal to get up in the morning - mistaken for defiance or depression.
- Running away - confused with refusing to face consequences.
- Reacting to even gentle encouragement to participate by crying, having tantrums, freezing or clinging - considered to be tactics of manipulation.
- Panic attacks - mistaken for fits, convulsions or even tantrums.
- Difficulty conversing, or not conversing at all, with people outside of the immediate family - taken to be a physical problem or speech defect or, in terms of the classroom environment, shyness, defiance or intellectual difficulty.
- Inability to participate in school-focused activities requiring interaction with other children, asking the teacher for help, physical education class and, even, walking along the hallway - generally supposed to be shyness or lack of confidence.
- Having or pretending to have a stomach ache - usually taken at face value until disproved be a number of visits to the doctor’s office and then, on the doctor’s authority, accepted as ‘something bothering her at school’.
- Inability to eat in public - mistaken for sulking or attempts at manipulation.
- Refusal to participate/compete/perform in school and community activities - mistaken for shyness, lack of confidence or manipulation.
- Refusal to answer the phone or a knock at the door - depending on the circumstances, thought to be due to shyness or contrariness.
There are many less obvious signs, all of them likely to be mistaken for something else. However, it is not shyness. It is not just a phase your child is going through. It is not something he/she will grow out of it. Persistent fear of social or performance situations in which your child is exposed to scrutiny, or perceived scrutiny, which will cause him/her humiliation or embarrassment, and the anxiety and avoidance provoked by this fear which together significantly impede his/her development and academic progress is social phobia.
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