An attachment disorder is a rare psychiatric condition where children are unable to form emotional bonds with parents and caregivers. Children may develop attachment disorders if they are neglected physically or emotionally as infants or toddlers. Children in orphanages or foster care may also develop attachment disorders if they are passed to many different caregivers.
Many different trauma- and stress-related disorders as well as anxiety disorders may show the same symptoms as an attachment disorder. It is important to work with a qualified professional who will look at your child’s individual circumstances to determine what is going on and how best to move forward.
Children with attachment disorders tend to avoid social interaction, or they may participate in inappropriate interactions with strangers, such as asking any adult to hold or feed them. Symptoms of an attachment disorder include:
Many of these symptoms will be apparent within a child’s first year or two of life. Children with an attachment disorder need a safe, stable environment where they can receive consistent care and physical affection from parents or guardians.
Clinicians with Riley Child Development at IU Health perform comprehensive evaluations to identify attachment disorders. During the evaluation, the provider will take an extensive developmental history to find out about any health problems, what is going on in your child’s life and the history of his or her behavior. The provider will also observe how your child behaves and interacts during the appointment.
You may be asked to fill out a brief questionnaire or checklist. If needed, your child may be brought back for an appointment to undergo psychological testing, speech testing and/or a medical examination. This testing, often in the form of activities or games, lets your child’s provider identify symptoms and make an accurate diagnosis.
After your child is evaluated, you will receive a detailed report on his or her developmental health. If your child has an attachment disorder, you will be referred to appropriate providers who can help your family develop a treatment plan for your child. Treatment may include psychiatric counseling for both you and your child as well as parenting classes.
Children with attachment disorders do have the ability to form emotional bonds, but they are hindered by their previous experiences. A safe environment, nurturing and responsive care and consistent caregivers all help children form attachments again.
To find out more about attachment disorders, visit the trusted websites below.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
The AACAP website offers guides for families about many different child development and psychiatry issues, including attachment disorders.
This website offers education and advice for helping children during early development.
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