How to Recognize Attachment Disorder in Children: What are the Signs, Symptoms and Causes

We want to believe that most children develop secure emotional attachments with their parents and caregivers during their formative years. But sadly, this isn’t always the case. The attachments we form as children with our caregivers dictate how we end up forming our attachments as adults, with our friends and romantic partners. To properly understand what attachment disorder is, the Da Vinci Collaborative team put together this article to help our readers understand its importance.

Why is secure attachment important?

It’s vital for us to understand why secure attachment plays a key role in the early developmental years of our kids. Children who are securely attached to their caregivers develop healthy trust in adults. They’re also more likely to explore and try new things, and typically handle stress quite well.

Children who develop insecure attachment styles usually have one or many unpredictable caregivers in their lives. They learn adults cannot be fully trusted and start viewing them as unreliable. This can lead to avoidance of people later on, flight-or-fight responses, anxiety, anti-social behavior, increased fear, and more such troubles.

What causes attachment disorder?

Children are extremely fragile when they’re young. As parents, we have to be really careful how we interact with our children, and most importantly, with the way we form emotional bonds with them. As small children, we develop a secure attachment with our caregivers when they tend to our emotional needs. If a parent leaves for a short period of time (a few hours or a couple of days), kids feel a healthy level of anxiety, but experience relief when reunited.

Problems arise when parents do not have the ability, emotional capacity or knowledge to properly meet the needs of their children. Adults also struggle connecting emotionally and can have a history of unhealthy bonds. This can directly affect parenting styles, and when young children are unable to emotionally connect with their parents, they can develop an unhealthy attachment disorder.

Now, as a disclaimer. It’s not always a neglectful or abusive parent who distorts a child’s emotional attachment style. Overly loving and caring parents can also create dysfunction when it comes to emotional connections.

Which are the two attachment disorder types?

Depending on the situation, children can have mild problems forming attachments, or they could suffer from one of these two disorders: reactive attachment disorder (RAD) or disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED). Both are common in children who’ve been traumatized, abused, lived in orphanages or questionable foster cares, or have been separated from a primary caregiver. A parent’s premature death or divorce also play a huge role when it comes to attachment theory. Children going through these challenges develop difficulty relating to others and their emotional development is staggered.

Reactive attachment disorder

Children who develop this attachment style usually fail to seek comfort from their caregivers. They may refuse physical comfort, avoid eye contact or become hypervigilant. This can be caused by abuse and hot-and-cold behavior from main caregivers.

Disinhibited social engagement disorder

This type of attachment is usually the cause of parents being overly loving and affectionate, or totally absent emotionally. Children with DSED are naive and sometimes too friendly, and can end up in situations that are strange or even threatening by blindly trusting strangers.

Additional symptoms of both RAD and DSED attachment disorder include:

  • Anger issues
  • Clinginess
  • Impulsivness
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Withdrawing
  • Fear
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Lack of affection to caregivers
  • Blind trust of strangers

Attachment disorder is similar to ADHD

Children with attachment disorders often exhibit symptoms that resemble ADHD. If a child is misdiagnosed, the treatment and behavioral strategies can worsen their attachment disorder. Raising awareness on the similarities between attachment disorder and ADHD can help ensure correct diagnosis and treatment. Some of the telling signs of ADHD and attachment disorder include children struggling emotionally, behaviorally, socially and academically.

Do you suspect your child might have developed an attachment disorder?

The causes and symptoms detailed in the article may not apply to every child. People are different, and children can develop attachment disorders based on just a few elements. If you suspect your child might have some symptoms, or if you’re confused whether it’s ADHD or an attachment disorder, make sure to check out our new course. This workshop centers around diagnostic confusion between ADHD and attachment disorder. It can be a great guide in helping you determine the correct intervention.

If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us here.

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