Reactive attachment disorder is a rare condition that is found in children where they experience a great deal of emotional dysfunction. It develops due to the child experiencing abuse or neglect from their caregiver early on in their lives.

This truly hinders the natural bond that is developed between them. After this occurs for a significant amount of time, reactive attachment disorder can develop.

Children who are raised in orphanages or foster-care facilities have a higher risk for developing this disorder. Other factors that may heighten the risk for a child to develop this illness are if their parents or caregivers engage in high quantities of alcohol or recreational drugs, if their caregivers suffer from major depression, or if they are merely uncaring and apathetic toward their children, among many other factors.

One study found that reactive attachment disorder is associated with changes in the brain’s gray matter stemming from early mistreatment. The changes that were found in the brain were in the left primary visual cortex. This part of the brain helps to regulate stress responses to emotional visual images. Some researchers suspect that this occurrence can actually play a part in the development of even more psychological issues later on in their life [1].



Causes

There are many different causes of this condition. One of the most prevalent causes for a child to develop this disorder is when there is an interruption with the natural attachment that is developed between a child and their caregiver. Such an interruption could be due to many different factors, such as the one’s previously mentioned. Nevertheless, this would have to occur for a significant period of time for the child to develop reactive attachment disorder.

Consistent and persistent efforts to avoid their child or lack of effort to engage with them over a significant period of time can possibly cause this mental disorder to develop. Other causes could be if the child is in foster care. This may make it very difficult for them to develop a meaningful relationship with their caregiver. This may lead to the child developing reactive attachment disorder, as well as other mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety.

Symptoms

Some common symptoms of inhibited reactive attachment disorder are feelings of detachment, excessively holding back emotions, resistant to comforting, and behaving in a withdrawn manner [2]. Some common symptoms of dis-inhibited reactive attachment disorder are being inappropriately selective in the decision making process of choosing attachment figures and exercising poor social judgement [3].

Their behaviors may look similar to that of a younger child. They may lie, steal, argue, throw temper tantrums, blame others for their mistakes, and have trouble regulating their emotions, among many other things. Essentially, their brains are hard-wired to “stay put” [4].

Diagnostic Criteria

If a child is experiencing any of the foregoing symptoms, then it is possible that they may have this condition. However, to get a proper diagnosis, the child will need to see a psychiatrist or a therapist who has the credentials to diagnose mental disorders. This is the best way to truly know whether or not your child suffers from this mental illness. You may want to seek out a therapist who specializes in pediatrics.

Treatments

Like most mental disorders, there are no treatment methods that can cure reactive attachment disorder. According to Psychology Today, “In some cases, attachment-based family therapy (ABFT) administered by a licensed, experienced attachment–based family therapist can help children and adults heal damaged family relationships and strengthen the parent-child bond [4].” Medications may help if the child is experiencing symptoms of other mental illnesses in addition to reactive attachment disorder such as OCD or depression.


References

1) “Reactive Attachment Disorder.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/reactive-attachment-disorder
2) “Reactive Attachment Disorder.” Web MD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-reactive-attachment-disorder#1-3
3) “Reactive Attachment Disorder.” Web MD. https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/mental-health-reactive-attachment-disorder#1-4
4) “Why Don’t Kids “Outgrow” Reactive Attachment Disorder (and What Happens When They Grow up Without Help).” Institute For Attachment. http://instituteforattachment.ong/why-kids-dont-outgrow-reactive-attachment-disorder-and-what-happens-when-they-grow-up-without-help/
5) Reactive Attachment Disorder.” Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/reactive-attachment-disorder