Reactive attachment disorder is a rare condition that occurs when a young child or infant fails to establish healthy attachments to their caregivers or parents. The condition might develop if a child's basic needs regarding nurturing, affection, and comfort aren't met. Treatment can help children develop healthy and stable relationships with their caregivers. The usual treatments include counseling for parents and caregivers, psychological counseling, education about positive caregiver and child interactions, and creating a nurturing environment. While the condition can begin in infancy, it has been studied in children from infancy through five years old. There are a number of symptoms of reactive attachment disorder caregivers and medical professionals should be aware of.
Children with reactive attachment disorder may have a listless appearance. They may seem sad without any discernable reason for being sad. Listlessness might include a lack of reaction to outside stimuli, a lack of interest in the world around them, and a general lack of attachment. They might not smile even when caregivers try to engage them in fun activities. These are all signs an infant or young child is failing to relate to the world in an emotionally healthy way. It's important for these children to be evaluated by a doctor or psychologist. Sometimes a listless appearance is related to issues besides reactive attachment disorder, such as a sign of neurodivergence like autism spectrum disorder, or a sign of early mental illness.
Not Seeking Support
A child with reactive attachment disorder might not seek support even in situations where they need it. Preschool teachers and parents might notice children with this condition don't reach out for assistance or help even when it's needed, such as to get objects down from high places or help with homework. This can be attributed to an early failure to meet all of the child's emotional and support needs. If a child is not receiving the nurturing and support they need in their environment, they will learn not to seek it out. Failing to ask for assistance can make it more difficult for children to learn important life skills. It can also cause them not to ask for help in situations where they're experiencing serious distress.
No Interest In Interactive Games
Children with reactive attachment disorder often don't show any interest in playing interactive games like peekaboo. They don't have an emotional connection to their caregivers or parents, so they don't feel engaged when others try to play interactive games. A neurotypical child will participate in games like peekaboo and pay attention to them, even if they haven't yet learned how to communicate verbally. Interactive games are an important part of the development process for children. They can help with motor skills and physical development, memory retention, mental development, social skills, friendships, and familial relationships. A child's failure to engage with interactive games can lead to developmental issues and issues like reactive attachment disorder down the line.
No Reactions To Comfort
It's common for children with reactive attachment disorder to show no reactions to comfort. They may also not seek comfort even when experiencing obvious distress. When individuals reach down to pick them up, they may not reach out. A neurotypical child will typically reach toward their caregivers or call for them when they need comfort. Children with reactive attachment disorder fail to seek comfort or react to it because their brains have adapted to an environment where they aren't receiving the comfort they need. It's a survival mechanism. Not all survival mechanisms are healthy, though, and failing to accept comfort can also lead to long-term developmental issues. Comfort is especially important when helping children develop emotionally.
Not Engaging In Social Interaction
Not engaging in social interaction is one of the first symptoms of reactive attachment disorder many notice. Preschool and kindergarten teachers may observe this in their students. In addition, medical professionals might notice a child isn't engaging in social interaction during normal physicals. Children might avoid social interaction with both adults and other children. A neurotypical child will interact with other adults and children. Lack of social interaction can damage a child's ability to form relationships. It's also common for children to watch others closely but fail to interact with them. This careful watching can sometimes develop because a child has been exposed to turbulent moods or environments. They watch others to look for warning signs of emotional volatility, but they don't reach out because their needs aren't usually met.