Attachment Disorder Symptoms

Updated at: Jan 23, 2012
Attachment Disorder Symptoms

Attachment Disorder Symptoms - Attachment disorder impedes a child's psychological growth and leads to several psychological problems in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Dr Pulkit Sharma
Tips for ParentWritten by: Dr Pulkit SharmaPublished at: Nov 21, 2011

Mental Disorder

Attachment- A secure base


During early infancy and childhood, the child is dependent on adults for gratification of various biological and psychological needs such as hunger, comfort and safety. If these needs are gratified and there is little frustration then the child develops a strong attachment to the caregivers. He or she feels secure and the sense of vulnerability decreases. Basic trust develops and the child feels that no matter whatever overwhelming feeling comes up there will be someone to take care. This enables the child to handle distress and feel good about themselves and other people. Thus, seeds are sown for robust self and good interpersonal relationships.


What is Attachment Disorder?


Attachment disorder refers to abnormalities in a person’s multiple facets - emotional, cognitive, social, behavioral and relational due to disturbed bonding with primary caregivers (mother, father, grandparents, or nanny) in infancy and early childhood. Often, if a child develops an attachment disorder then it impedes their psychological growth and leads to several psychological problems in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Attachment disorder in childhood may lead to several personality disorders in adulthood including schizoid personality disorder, paranoid personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.


Symptoms of Attachment Disorder


Attachment disorder leads to diverse symptoms. At one extreme are children who avoid closeness, do not seek or respond to others, keep to their self and on the other end there are those who seek closeness obsessively from everyone. Although there is a large individual variation in symptoms of attachment disorder from one child to another but two distinct symptom clusters are broadly observed across several cases:

  • Inhibited Type: The child prefers to keep to himself or her is either withdrawn and does not initiate contact with others or is conflicted about relating. There are children who may initiate contact and then suddenly withdraw.
  • Disinhibited Type: The child displaying this pattern is very sociable and attaches strongly to almost anyone and everyone including strangers. There is no selectivity and commitment in choice of an attachment figure.

In extreme cases of attachment disorder, the child may have additional symptoms due to disturbed attachment. These include- stunted growth and poor weight gain, poor cognitive development, retarded speech and social problems.


Causes of Attachment Disorder


Each child has an innate biological temperament, for instance some children are easy to soothe while others are quite difficult. The manner in which the temperament of the child interacts with the temperament of the primary caregivers from day one determines to a large extent whether the child will develop an attachment disorder or not.


Environments where a child’s needs are neglected due to physical or emotional unavailability of caregiver, early separation from primary caregiver, multiple caregivers, child abuse are risk factors for attachment disorder.


Treatment of Attachment Disorder


The treatment of attachment disorder depends on the age at which it has been diagnosed. If diagnosed during infancy parental counseling or parent-infant psychotherapy is given. Young and growing up children benefit from play and other creative therapies while adults who continue to have this disorder need intensive long-term psychotherapy.


Author: Dr Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi.



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