is Attachment Disorder?
Attachment Disorder is a very real illness. Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are reacting to events in their early
life that may include neglect, abuse, or something more subtle (see causes
below). Due to these events, many children are unable to attach to a primary
caregiver and go through the normal development that children must go
through in order to function in relationships. My explanation is somewhat
simplified but may be helpful to you. It does not replace a diagnosis
from an attachment therapist.
In the first two years of life, children go through healthy attachment
cycles - the first year and second year attachment cycles. A healthy first
year attachment cycle looks like this:
As the baby
has a need and signals that need by crying, the mother (primary caregiver)
comes and soothes her baby and meets his needs. If this cycle is repeated
over and over again and the baby's needs are consistently met in the proper
way by the same caregiver, the baby often learns to trust. He will then
be able to continue on in his development. Now, take a look at the disturbed
you compare the Healthy Attachment Cycle to the Disturbed Attachment Cycle,
you can see how the baby has a need, cries, but this time, the need is
not met by his mother (primary caregiver). Sometimes, the need is met
but it is inconsistent, or there are different caregivers who are not
attuned to this particular baby. Sometimes the baby's cries go unanswered
as in the case of neglect or the baby's cries are met with a slap as in
the case of physical abuse. Whatever the cause, the baby's needs are not
met in a consistent, appropriate way. (See Potential Causes)
Instead of learning to trust as the baby who experiences the Healthy Attachment
Cycle, this baby learns that the world is an unsafe place, that he must
take care of himself, that he can trust no one to meet his needs. He learns
that he cannot depend on adults. Instead of trust developing, rage develops
and is internalized. He learns that he must be in charge of his life for
his very survival. Is it any wonder that a child with reactive attachment
disorder feels the need to be in control? He thinks his very life depends
If the child has been able to successfully go through the Healthy Attachment
Cycle during his first year of life, then he most likely will be able
to go through the next which is the Second Year Secure Attachment Cycle:
is only by going through this Second Year Secure Attachment Cycle that
the child will ever be able to learn to accept limits on his behavior.
It is by going through these two attachment cycles - the Healthy Attachment
Cycle in the first year and then the Second Year Secure Attachment Cycle
- that the child learns to trust, engage in reciprocity, to regulate his
emotions. It is back there that he starts to develop a conscience, self-
esteem, empathy, the foundations for logical thinking are laid down, etc.
The breakdown of these two attachment cycles will damage all of the relationships
he has for the rest of his life unless interventions are made.
When the first cycle breaks down, the child cannot do the second year.
To expect the child to function as a typical child when his normal development
was completely stunted back in infant/toddlerhood is not rational. We
must take them back and help them redo these steps.
Some information based on Attachment, Trauma, and Healing by Terry Levy
and Michael Orlans.
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Last updated on
April 18, 2013
information on the Attachment Disorder Site does not replace professional
site is my attempt to pass on my knowledge from reading and learning
everything I could find on this issue so that I could help our son
and maybe help others who are walking this same path.
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