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Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorder of mood, behaviors and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachment to primary care giving figures in early childhood, resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviors. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse abrupt separation from caregiver, lack of caregiver’s response to baby’s communicative efforts. All these after six months but before three years of age can develop as attachment disorder. Any problem after three years of age may be distressing to a child but does not result in attachment disorder.

Attachment is the result of the bonding process that occurs between a child and caregiver during the first three years of the child’s life. Apart from nourishment, the infant’s primary needs are touch, eye contact, movement, smiles etc. These develop a secure base from which the child can confidently and effectively explore the world.

When this initial attachment is lacking, children lack the ability to form and maintain loving intimate relationships. They grow with an impaired ability to trust that the world is safe place and that others will take a good care of them. Children without proper care in the first few years of life have an unusually high level of stress hormones, which adversely effect the development of brain as well as body, therefore these children lack social values and morality as well as demonstrating aggressive, disruptive and antisocial behavior.

Here are some factors which contribute in development of impaired attachment.

  • Premature birth
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Baby cries and no one responds or offer comfort
  • Baby is hungry or wet and he/she is not attended to for hours
  • No one looks at, talk to, or smiles at the baby, so the baby feels alone
  • A young child or baby is mistreated or abused
  • The infant or young child is hospitalized
  • A baby is separated from his or her parents or is moved from one care giver to another (can be the result of adoption, foster care, or the loss of parent)

Sometimes the circumstances are unavoidable but the child is too young to understand. To identify the problem few symptoms of attachment disorder in children are:

  • Indiscriminately affectionate with unfamiliar adults, while lacks genuine affection with primary caregiver, specially mother
  • Controlling, manipulative, argumentative, demanding, impulsive and destructive nature
  • Long temper especially in response to adult authority
  • Poor eye contact
  • Lacks cause and effect thinking and blames others for their problem
  • Lies, steals, shows no conscience
  • Doesn’t smile and rejects your effort to calm, soothe and connect
  • Strange eating habit and poor hygiene
  • Persistent nonsense questions and incessant chatter
  • Doesn’t seem to notice or care when you leave them alone and not even follow you with his/her eyes
  • Doesn’t coo or make sound but cries inconsolably
  • Not interested in playing interactive games or with toys

Treatment for attachment disorder in children: Parenting a child with attachment disorder can be exhausting, but with time patience and concerted effort it can be repaired. Remain calm yet firm when your child is upset or misbehaving. You should remain patient and focusing on even a small improvement. Create an atmosphere of safety. Laugh and humor will help in making atmosphere light and stress free. Take care of yourself so that you keep yourself cool calm and patient. Such a child needs to learn that although you may not be perfect, you will be loved. Try to maintain the predictable routine and schedule. This will comfort the child.

Due to previous abuse and trauma, the child may be very resistant to physical touch. Be respectful of what feels comfortable and good to the child but go very slowly to show the child love through rocking, cuddling and holding.
These children often act like younger both socially and emotionally. Treat them as they are younger using more non verbal method of soothing and comforting. Carve some time to listen, play and talk and to give a full focused attention to feel comfortable. Healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way in reducing the child’s stress level.

Professional treatment: The treatment usually involves a combination of therapy. Counseling and parenting education designed to ensure the child has a safe living environment, develop positive interaction with the caregiver. The pediatrician may recommend a treatment plan that includes family therapy, individual psychological counseling, play therapy, special education,  therapy, parenting skill classes.