Attachment Disorders

Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood.

Attachment Difficulties occus as a result of a breakdown in the normal attachement process.

John Bowlby, working with the ‘deliquent’ boys in the 1940’s was the first to recognise the links between problematic and disrupted early experiences and later emotional and behavioural difficulties. Later researcheers, particularlt Mary Aisnworth (1978), developed methods of classifying different attachemnt styles based on the adaptive behaviours that developed out of different types of carer-infant interactions. The three main attachement styles that indicate attachement difficulties or disorders are avoidant, ambivalent (or anxious restraint) and disorgansed (or disorganized). 

  • Avoidant Attachment – this occurs when the care giver is emotionally unavailable and so the child learns to minimise their attachment needs, eventually becoming emotionally detached and seeking to met thier needs independently. A child with an avoidant attachment style may present as quiet, harworking and compliant in the classroom, and so are often overloked, however hey are likely to be extremely anxious beheath the surface.
  • Ambivalent Attachment – this occurs when the caregiver is unreliable or preoccupied with their own needs. The child learns to maximise their attacehment needs, striving constantly to attract attention. A child with an ambivalent attachment style may present as demanding, clingy and attention seeking in the classroom. They are prone to an underlying resentment or anger towards adults as their early needs were not reliably met.
  • Disorganised Attachment –  Both Avoidant and Ambivalent attachment occus when the child has developed an organised pattern of behaviour in response to their environment. Disorganised attachment occurs when their early experiences are so chaotic and terrifying that the infant has not developed a consistant, organised response. It is usually the result of major developmental trauma such as severe neglect or abuse: the child experiences the parent/guardian as both the potential for safety and the source of fear. The behaviour of children with a disorganised attachemnt style may be extremely unpredictable, confusing, bizzar and angry. As the child gets older they often resolve this through self-reliance and develop highly controlling behaviours.

The contribution that an understanding of attachment theory can make to schools and learning outcomes is considerrable.

The understanding of school staff and the informed process and procesures of the school can contribute considerably to a safer and more attuned environment in which more hopeful relationships can be experienced; with the school as the secure base.

The more vulnerable pupils can begin to re-experience more positive and hopeful relationships, greater emotional wellbeing and begin to engage more sucessfully in learning. Successful engagement in school and learning is the access point to later engagement in the social world of work and community. Primary schools in particular make a great contibution to the continuum of intervention available to us with vulnerable children and families whose opportunities are affected by adversity in early life.