HBH Treatment & Therapies

Attachment Disorders: Symptoms, Causes, and Therapy for Attachment Disorders

Therapy for Attachment Disorders, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) or Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED), in Western MA and Greater Boston Area

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Are you parenting or caregiving a child who struggles to form an emotional connection with you? Does your child fear connecting with others, resist comfort when they are distressed, and often feel unsafe and alone?

In contrast, are you parenting or caregiving a child who seems to prefer attention from other people, even strangers, over your own? Does your child seek comfort and attention from virtually anyone, without distinction?

If your infant or young child displays severe problems or difficulties in their emotional attachment to others they might be suffering from an attachment disorder.

“Attachment disorders are serious psychiatric illnesses that can develop in young children who have problems in emotional attachment to others. The way that a child learns to form and maintain emotional attachment to others primarily stems from their initial interactions with a parent or primary caregiver.”

-Mikkah Weisman, LICSW with HHB Therapy

An attachment disorder can be detrimental to a child’s social development, and can be extremely difficult to navigate as a parent or caregiver. Fortunately, our team of trained therapists at HBH Therapy in our offices around Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, and across Massachusetts are ready to help your child improve their close relationships with others.

Through an extensive process of comprehensive psychiatric assessment and an individualized treatment plan for your child to follow, our counselors at HBH Therapy will guide your child toward the thriving childhood and hopeful future that they deserve.

To learn more about attachment disorders, causes, symptoms, and our specialized treatment at HBH Therapy, please read on. We can also be reached by phone at (413) 343-4357.

What are Attachment Disorders?

Attachment relationships are the relationships that form between caregivers and infants. Disturbances to these attachment relationships can result in the development of an attachment disorder; a psychiatric illness that can develop in young children who have had severe problems in their emotional attachment to their caregiver. Parents, caregivers, or physicians may notice that a child struggles with emotional attachment as early as their first birthday.

“The main difference between an attachment disorder and other mental health disorders is that an attachment disorder is rooted in trauma. Typically, there would have been a specific traumatic event early in adolescence- abuse, neglect, or change in caregiver- for an attachment disorder to develop in a child.”

-Mikkah Weisman, LICSW with HHB Therapy

A parent might seek treatment from one of our counselors at HBH Therapy if their infant or child displays one or more of the following symptoms:

  1. Severe colic and/or feeding difficulties
  2. Failure to gain weight
  3. Detached and unresponsive behavior
  4. Difficulty being comfortable
  5. Preoccupied and/or defiant behavior
  6. Being too close with strangers

The DSM-5 specifically identifies two types of attachment disorders: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED).

  1. Children diagnosed with RAD consistently demonstrate emotionally withdrawn behavior toward adult caregivers. They are less likely to interact with other people due to negative experiences with adult caregivers in their early years. They have difficulty calming down when stressed and rarely seek comfort from their caregivers when upset.

What are the Symptoms of RAD?

  • Not smiling
  • Being irritable for no reason
  • Seemingly sad and fearful, especially around caregivers
  • Not feeling better when an adult tries to comfort them
  • Calming down more easily when left alone
  • Not showing interest or looking at people around them
  • Not reacting when picked up by an adult
  • Not laughing or playing interactive games like peek-a-boo
  1. Children diagnosed with DSED consistently demonstrate socially disinhibited behavior toward unfamiliar adults. They do not appear fearful when meeting someone for the first time. Children with DSED lack any hesitation when approaching, engaging, and leaving with adult strangers.

What are the Symptoms of DSED?

  • Increased excitement or lack of inhibition over meeting or interacting with strangers
  • Behaviors with strangers that are overly friendly, talkative, or physical
  • Willingness or desire to leave a place or situation with a stranger
  • Lack of desire or interest in checking with a trusted adult prior to leaving a safe place

If your infant or young child displays any of the above symptoms, it’s imperative that you seek qualified mental health treatment from one of our counselors at HBH Therapy. Without treatment, these psychiatric illnesses can severely affect a child’s social and emotional development.

What Causes an Attachment Disorder?

“Insecure attachment early in life among children who are maltreated, particularly those in the foster care, kinship care, or adoption systems, can lead to the development of an attachment disorder.”

-Mikkah Weisman, LICSW with HHB Therapy

Most children who suffer from an attachment disorder have endured conflicts or difficulties in their early relationships with their primary caregiver. The child might have been physically or emotionally abused or neglected by a primary caregiver.

In some cases, our therapists at HBH will treat children who have experienced inadequate care in an institutional setting or other out-of-home placement, such as an orphanage or foster care.

What Does Attachment Disorder Treatment at HBH Therapy Involve?

While effective mental health treatment for DSED and RAD varies depending on the child, our team of therapists at HBH Therapy believe that the most effective treatment for DSED and RAD involves the child and their parents, or primary caregivers.

Your therapist at HBH Therapy will provide your child with a comprehensive psychiatric assessment, and create an individualized treatment plan for you and your child to follow, with the goal of strengthening the relationship between you and your child.

Treatment for DSED and RAD typically involves talk therapy, play therapy, art therapy, medications for co-occurring conditions if necessary, and behavioral management techniques for the parent and child.

  1. Play Therapy: An important part of a child’s positive development. Play therapy allows the therapist or a caregiver to operate on the child’s level and understand the child’s behaviors and interactions in relationships through play.
  2. Art Therapy: Many trained therapists use art and creativity to aid the parent and the child with difficult emotional processes. Your therapist at HBH might find art helpful in better understanding the relationship between the parent and child.
  3. Talk Therapy: A communication-based method to address, diagnose, and treat concerns related to emotions, thinking, and behavioral patterns. Therapists at HBH have found talk therapy successful for patients dealing with traumatic life events or traumatic childhoods.
  4. Medications: If a child has a co-occurring condition, such as anxiety disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or mood disorder, medications for those conditions can be administered and may improve the DSED or RAD symptoms.
  5. Behavioral Management: An effective form of attachment disorder treatment, behavioral management can help parents or caregivers focus on the quality of their interactions with their child. Behavioral management strategies might involve helping parents communicate appropriate behavioral expectations and consequences to their children.

Without effective diagnosis and treatment early on, the physical, emotional, and social problems associated with an attachment disorder can become more complicated and damaging as the child grows older.”

-Mikkah Weisman, LICSW with HHB Therapy

How Can I Schedule an Appointment with a Therapist?

If you notice any of the following symptoms in your child, please contact HBH Therapy at (413) 343-4357. Our trained mental health professionals in Amherst, Wilbraham, West Springfield, Franklin, and across Massachusetts will answer all of your questions and concerns, and guide your child along the path of recovery.

During your child’s treatment program at HBH Therapy, you and your child will learn the deeper causes of their attachment disorder as well as develop healthy behavior management techniques to improve your relationship and their emotional connections with others. Contact us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting and nonprofit communications and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College. Nettie is a believer in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing and storytelling as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. Nettie is endlessly curious about all things mental and behavioral health.