July, 20 2018

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Getting to Know Attachment Disorder

Developmental psychology teaches us that we – like other animals – form important attachments during infancy. This bonding seems critical to healthy emotional development.

Possible Causes of Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder refers to children who have lost a primary relationship during the critical attachment period of development (usually in the first 2 years of life). Children who have been adopted from orphanages or removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect may be at risk for this disorder, although children may live with their biological parents and still manifest symptoms.

The assumption is that repeated disruption of caregiver and/or neglect of a child’s physical and emotional needs results in either ambivalent, contradictory social behavior or a tendency to attach to strangers without appropriate selectivity. If a child did not bond sufficiently with a parent or caregiver as an infant, she may struggle to trust and form secure bonds with other people.

Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Here’s a checklist with commonly seen symptoms of attachment disorder:

My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to other children.
My child can't keep friends for an age-appropriate length of time.
My child doesn't do as well in school as my child could do even with a little more effort.
My child pushes me away or becomes stiff when I try to hug, unless my child wants something from me, in which case my child can be affectionate and engaging.
My child argues for long periods of time, often about meaningless or silly things.
My child has a large need to control everything.
My child is hyper-vigilant.
My child acts amazingly innocent, or pretends that things aren't really bad or a problem when caught doing something wrong.
My child does dangerous things such as runs away, jumps out of windows, or other potentially harmful actions. My child seems oblivious to the fact that my child may be hurt.
My child deliberately breaks or ruins his things or other's things.
My child doesn't seem to feel age-appropriate guilt when my child does something wrong.
My child is impulsive. My child seems unable or unwilling to stop doing something my child wants to do.
My child teases, hurts, or is cruel to animals.
My child steals, or shows up with things that belong to others with unbelievable, unusual, or suspicious reasons for how my child got these things.
My child likes to sneak things without permission, even though my child could have had these things if my child had asked.
My child doesn't seem to learn from mistakes, consequences, or punishments (my child continues the behavior despite the consequences).
My child makes false reports of abuse or neglect. My child tries to get sympathy from others, or tries to get us in trouble, by telling others that I abuse, don't feed, or don't provide the basic necessities.
My child seems not to experience pain when hurt, refusing to let anyone provide comfort.
My child does not usually ask for things. My child demands things.
My child lies, often about obvious or ridiculous things, or when it would have been easier to tell the truth.
My child is quite bossy with other children and adults.
My child hoards, sneaks food, or has other unusual eating habits (eats paper, raw sugar, non-food items, package mixes, baker's chocolate, etc.)
My child often does not make eye contact when adults want to make eye contract with my child.
My child has extended temper tantrums.
My child chatters non-stop, asks repeated questions about things that make no sense, mutters, or is hard to understand when talking.
My child is accident-prone (gets hurt a lot), or complains a lot about every little ache and pain (needs constant attention).
My child acts cute or charming to get others to do what my child wants.
My child is overly friendly with strangers.
My child has set fires, or is preoccupied with fire.
My child prefers to watch violent cartoons and/or TV shows or horror movie (regardless of whether or not you allow your child to do this).
My child was abused/neglected during the first year of life, or had several changes of primary caretaker during the first several years of life.
My child was in an orphanage for more than the first year of life.
My child was adopted after the age of twelve months.

If you find that more than a few items (more than five or so) have been circled, your child may be experiencing difficulties that require professional assistance. If, in addition to several items being marked, any of the last three items is check, your child may be experiencing attachment related problems.

Can I Help My Child With Attachment Disorder?

With a supportive environment, some children show significant improvement and remission of symptoms with age. Without this advantage, the disorder is likely to continue throughout life.

As with other mental disorders, the best course of action is to talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health clinician, request further evaluation, and seek appropriate psychological treatment for the family.

The stress of caring for a child with these difficulties can be severe, so be sure to take care of yourself and maintain your own support system. Try not to blame yourself for a child’s attachment issues, but focus on doing all that you can now to help build a lasting bond. One caring and committed person can make a world of difference for a struggling child.

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