Attachment disorder

There has been an awful lot written about attachment disorder and you aren’t a foster carer for very long before you attend at least some training on the subject. Some of what’s written is very academic so I thought it might be useful to simplify it.

A simple definition

Attachment disorder is a condition found in children who did not successfully bond with their parent or care giver in the very important early years, usually as a result of severe neglect. There is a prevalence of attachment disorders in adopted and fostered children, and this condition has come to the public’s attention as a result of the adoptions from Eastern European orphanages. Despite all the care, love and attention of the adoptive parents, some of these children have failed to bond, and have developed very negative and challenging behaviour.

The disorder occurs as a result of the child having learnt early that the world is unsafe, adults cannot be trusted and that he or she must take care of his own needs in order to survive. Unsurprisingly anger results and the child has an overriding need to be in control to stay safe.

Some symptoms

The severity of such a disorder varies. An attachment disorder shows on a brain scan as dark areas of inactivity in the brain where the child has literally missed out. Symptoms include:

  • obsessively controlling, bossy, argumentative, defiant, angry
  • resists affection from parents but can be over-familiar with strangers
  • manipulative, lies, steals, destroys property, impulsive
  • hyperactive and on a continual state of high alert
  • has speech and language problems
  •  has a fascination for the macabre or dangerous.

A child with a diagnosed attachment disorder will almost certainly receive therapy. The parents or carers work with the therapist to undo the harm of the early years and to help the child to bond, as well as managing and correcting the child’s unacceptable behaviour.

Cathy Glass (

The next edition of Foster Care magazine features an article on how attachment trauma can impact on children's education. The magazine will arrive with members in early November and will be available online shortly after.

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