Attachment disorders describes emotional and behavioral deviations resulting from the failure to establish healthy bonds with parents or carers in early childhood. Attachment disorders are attributed to neglect, abuse or the frequent change of caregivers. This lifelong condition results from the failure to meet the child's basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing. Research shows that after 5 years of age, attachment problems will not lead to attachment disorders, but they still will have a negative effect on the child's psyche and development. British psychologist John Bowlby (1907 to 1990) was the first to carry out consistent research into attachment disorders. He is also credited with the development of the Attachment Theory, which has as its major tenet that the infant has to develop a stable relationship with at least one primary caregiver so that he or she develops emotionally in a normal way. Attachment is the lasting emotional bond established between a child and a parent or a caregiver. This relationship has a profound effect on the child's emotional and mental development and ability to express emotions and establish relationships later in life. "The initial relationship between self and others serves as blueprints for all future relationships," Bowlby said. The deep and enduring connection between the child and the carer helps the child develop self-esteem. He or she becomes independent and autonomous, able to manage feelings and establish long-term relationships. The safe environment and secure attachment shape the child's understanding of trust, affection, empathy and compassion. Responsive carers can provide a stable environment for the child's development and can meet his or her basic emotional and physical needs, which helps the child feel worthwhile, safe and capable. But if carers are unresponsive, unreliable and dangerous, the child feels unsafe, worthless, weak and rejected. "If a child is not attached -- does not form a loving bond with the mother -- he does not develop an attachment to the rest of mankind. The unattached child literally does not have a stake in humanity," according Magid & McKelvey (1988). In clinical psychology, reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a severe disorder characterized by markedly disturbed ways of relating socially in most contexts. Reactive attachment disorders result from children's inability to form an affectional tie with his or her parents, which undermines the foundations for healthy development.
Researchers have identified a number of caregivers' practices and situations in early childhood which can lead to disrupted and anxious attachment. These include: absence of response to the baby's cry, leaving the baby unattended for hours and loneliness in early childhood. Undiagnosed or painful illnesses and chronic maternal depression may also put the child at risk. Other risk factors include life in an orphanage, institutional care, prolonged hospitalization, extreme poverty as well as physical and emotional abuse. A child with an attachment disorder experiences difficulties connecting to others or managing his or her emotions. As a result, the child struggles with lack of trust, fear of establishing closer relationships and anger. Attachment disorders may develop either in an inhibited form or in a disinhibited form. Inhibited symptoms are identified in people who are withdrawn and emotionally detached. Disinhibited symptoms, on the other hand, are detected in children who seek comfort and attention from anyone. The latter also act much younger and show signs of being extremely dependent. The symptoms of attachment disorders in early childhood include avoidance of eye contact, failure to smile, lack of interest in playing with toys and self-soothing behavior, such as rocking or self-stroking. Adolescents with such disorders may be withdrawn from others, avoid or dismiss comforting comments and gestures or show a tendency to strive for excessive control. They may also fail to show guilt, regret or remorse after behaving inappropriately. Research shows that attachment disorders can lead to poor self-esteem, delinquent behavior, relationship problems, temper problems, depression, anxiety as well as drug and alcohol abuse. Famous people diagnosed with attachment disorders include Adolf Hitler, American writer Edgar Allen Poe, and the serial killers Jeffery Dahmer and Ted Bundy. Attachment disorders require professional treatment from an early age. Professional help can include family therapy and individual psychological counseling. Through play therapy the child can learn to interact with peers. Meanwhile, parents can learn how to handle their children if they attend parenting skills classes.