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What is Attachment Disorder?

Attachment is the ongoing emotional connection that infants develop towards their caregivers. Attachment is the process whereby an infant’s needs are presented to the caregiver and then met. Once the needs are met, the infant relaxes and a sense of well-being and comfort is felt.

Dr. Vera Falberg studied how children become attached to a caregiver and called her theory “The Arousal/Relaxation Cycle”. Infants’ needs are expressed many times throughout the day. When the needs are met, the child comes to recognize the environment as predictable, which increases trust in the caregiver. Consequently, the child becomes attached to the caregiver. The separation of a child from the primary caregiver interrupts this process and threatens the development of healthy attachment. When the child’s needs are not met consistently, the trust and attachment are jeopardized and the child may learn not to rely on caregivers to meet his or her needs. If the child’s needs are consistently not met by the caregiver, the child may develop “Attachment Disorder”, which means it is difficult for the child to attach emotionally to anybody. The child distances themselves from anyone who may try to become close to them, thereby protecting themselves from further hurt or neglect. Often, foster children whose needs were not met by their mother or father, then were placed outside the home, and perhaps placed in several foster homes, develop the attachment disorder. They do not trust adults and will not allow themselves to become emotionally close to others.

Foster and adoptive parents should assume that attachment issues are usually present when a child is placed in their home. It is important for foster parents to begin working on providing a nurturing environment as soon as possible after a placement.

For foster children, many factors can influence the attachment cycle and how a child develops emotionally as a result. These can include: the age of the child at the time of placement; the child’s health or genetic factors; the child’s history of previous placements; the reasons for placement; previous attachments; prior physical, sexual, or emotional abuse; the child’s contact with the biological family; the foster parent’s comfort with filling the role as the primary caregiver; and the consistency of parenting the child has received.

Some of the signs that a child may have an attachment disorder are typical of other types of behavior or emotional problems, but some common ones are: illness, separation, or abuse of the child during the first 18 months; if the child is superficially engaging or charming; avoids eye contact or tries to stare the parent down; indiscriminately affectionate with strangers; refuses to show affection towards primary caregivers; self-destructive; no impulse control; hyperactive; preoccupied with fire, gore, or blood; inappropriately clingy or demanding; seeing one’s self as undeserving; unable to feel satisfied; or low self-esteem.

Ways to Promote Healthy Attachment With Foster Children