Attachment Disorder

Known medically as Reactive Attachment Disorder it is a markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness beginning before age 5 years (APA, 2013).  For our purposes we use a broader term intended to describe a spectrum of overlapping categories. This would include problems with mood, behaviour and social relationships that arise from a failure to form normal attachments. This behavioural pattern is sometimes seen in children who have experienced numerous relational separations and changes in caregiving arrangements during infancy or were brought up in institutions or multiple foster homes.  

The term refers to the absence or distortion of age appropriate social behaviours in the lack of social bonds with others.  For example, children may endanger or injure themselves and are frequently involved in accidents that appear to have been caused by flagrant risk-taking behaviour.  These children do not reassure themselves in dangerous situations with a glance back at their attachment figure, the way a securely attached child would do in an anxiety-provoking situation.  These children may seem driven in their behaviour, and fail to learn from their painful accidents (Brisch 2002).  They may also organize their attachment relationships around physical and/or verbal aggression.  This is their expression of a desire for closeness to their attachment figure.  In school these children are “troublemakers” and often are oppositional and defiant.  Their desire for attachment is understandably often misunderstood.  

Infant attachment insecurity is a risk factor for a range of adjustment problems in later life. 

Disclaimer: Resources, information, and links on the Transitional Care Website are provided as a courtesy to our visitors in order to increase knowledge and awareness of issues surrounding childhood mental health. These are not intended to replace or act as professional medical advice. Please consult a mental health professional if you have questions or concerns.



American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.