4.5 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: Do you understand Reactive Attachment Disorder and its characteristics?

4.5 Discuss the concept of reactive attachment disorder

Reactive Attachment Disorder

There are situations in which a child lacks emotional bond with anybody.  Such a situation is referred to as reactive attachment disorder. A child who experiences this in early childhood fails to acquire ability to interact normally with others. Such a child  may experience severe emotional and social problems that persist into adulthood. As we have said earlier, bonding is a necessary aspect in a baby’s growth and it develops as the infant is nurtured, consistently. When this process is interfered with, an infant may never learn how to trust the world or get involved in warm relationship.

In addition to the factors that hamper development of attachment, reactive attachment disorder is often caused by some form of early childhood abuse. The condition may occur due to neglected basic physical and emotional needs during the early stages of life. Frequent changes of the principal caregiver could also spark off the disorder. This is particularly common among young children reared in an orphanage, where caregivers turnover is high.


Characteristics of reactive attachment disorder victims

The disorder is suspected if an infant fails to show signs of bonding to a caregiver by the age of eight months. Children with reactive attachment display a number of developmentally inappropriate behaviours before they are five years. Generally;

  • They avoid the caregiver
  • They hardly smile
  • They avoid any physical contact  such as touching or shaking hands
  • They resist social interaction and prefer staying alone and are passive
  • They are difficult to comfort
  • They relate to strangers in the same way they do with familiar persons.
  • They are often unaware of the surrounding social environment or on the other extreme may be too aware and nervous.
  • They lack empathy for others
  • They often display destructive or cruel behavior and rarely learn from mistakes


Visit a nursery school and try to identify any child with some of the characteristics of children with attachment disorder. Try to find out the probable cause.


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