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Attachment Disorders

Also known as 'anxious attachment'

Positive child-caregiver relationships are vital to a baby’s development and understanding of the world. Babies and young children rely on caregivers for their wellbeing and learn early social skills by experiencing how the caregiver responds to them and others. Attachment disorders (also called anxious attachment) can develop in some young children who have had problems in forming emotional attachments to others. 

Research suggests most children with attachment disorders have had severe difficulties in early relationships. Psychological, social or physical problems associated with attachment disorders may persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Children at increased risk

Certain childhood experiences increase the likelihood of developing an attachment disorder, including:

    • Inadequate care in an institutional setting or other out-of-home placement (such as residential programs, foster care or orphanage)
    • Multiple traumatic losses, including early separation from a parent or  changes in primary caregivers 
    • Troubled childhood, including physical, emotional or sexual abuse or instances of neglect or mistreatment
    • Caregivers who ridiculed or became annoyed with a child in distress

Two possible types of attachment disorders

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD): Young children having negative experiences with adults might be unable to calm down when stressed and upset or seek comfort from their caregivers. Children are diagnosed with RAD if symptoms become chronic. This includes seeming to have little to no emotions when interacting with caretakers and appearing unhappy, irritable, sad or scared with others.

Disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED): In contrast, children with DSED are overly friendly with strangers and do not appear fearful when meeting them for the first time. Younger children may allow strangers to pick them up, feed them or give them toys; older children may walk up to them to talk or even hug them. They may go off with someone they do not know without checking with their parents or caregivers.

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