Emily Allyn and Dr. Chris Porter, Marriage, Family and Human Development
Attachment disorder is a common condition in institutionalized children in Romania. Infants and young children in the institutional setting are often unable to develop strong emotional bonds with a caregiver because of caregiver negligence and their failure to consistently respond to the children’s needs. The absence of an attachment bond is extremely distressing to a child, resulting in a rejected and unloved self-concept (Cassidy 497), difficulties in self-regulation, inability to form lasting intimate relationships of love and trust, and significant delays and deficiencies in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development (650).
Attachment disorder manifests itself in many different ways, including: resistance to cuddling, lack of eye contact, destruction of self, others, and things, indiscriminate affection, developmental lags, inappropriate demanding or clinging, abnormal speech patterns, indifference (Porter, Chris), withdrawal, and self-soothing behaviors, such as rocking.
One of my objectives while in Romania was to evaluate the presence of attachment disorder in the children I worked with, try and alleviate some of the stress and pain caused by this disorder by practicing therapeutic processes, and then re-evaluate the presence of the disorder in these children at the end of my stay in Romania.
I originally planned to use an attachment Q-sort as a tool for evaluating the level of attachment disorder in the children I studied. As I attempted to use this tool, however, I found that it was not an appropriate measure of attachment disorder in this particular context because it evaluated attachment in reference to the mother of the child. Because I was working with institutionalized children who did not have a relationship with a mother, this did not apply.
Because I was not able to use the Q-sort, to assess the existence of attachment disorder I observed the presence of symptomatic behaviors.
Child One had the greatest difference in observed attachment behaviors from the beginning to the end of my study. At first he frequently demonstrated self-soothing behaviors, such as constant rocking. He made little to no eye contact and made extreme resistance to cuddling or holding of any kind. He alternated very detached, unresponsive, and indifferent behavior with fits of unsoothable crying. I used therapeutic attachment forming methods with Child One, such as eye contact, loving touch, facial engagement, singing, and other demonstrations of love and affection. As time passed, I saw much progress in his behavior. He gradually allowed more touch and holding, eventually coming to seek it. He stopped rocking completely within a few weeks, was able to make eye contact, and become much more responsive and less withdrawn. I felt the therapeutic methods were a great success.
Child Two also made significant progress during the course of my study. In the beginning of my observations, Child Two avoided eye contact completely and all face to face interaction. He responded ambiguously to holding and touch, alternately seeking then refusing it. As I employed the same methods that I used with Child One, he gradually began making eye contact and even enjoying facial engagement and imitating, and became comfortable with holding and touch.
Child Three demonstrated severe delays in development and some self-destructive behavior. Her self-destructive behaviors did not stop, though she did make much progress in her development as I worked to combat her attachment disorder.
In these three children I feel the attachment intervention that I administered was a success. I worked with several other children with limited outward manifestations of progress. I feel, however, that I was able to give the children some of the love and affection that they were starving for and needed so badly, and I hope that I was able, in some small way, to contribute to their emotional and spiritual healing.
- Cassidy, Jude and Phillip R. Shaver. Handbook of Attachment: Theory, Research and Clinical Applications. The Gulford Press, New York:1999.
- Porter, Chris. Lecture on Attachment, September 26, 2001.