What is attachment disorder?
One of the areas I specialize in is working with children with attachment disorders. If that term is new to you, please allow me to explain. Attachment is the relationship a child forms with their early caregivers that shapes how we form connections to other people throughout our lives. We are all born relying completely upon adults to meet our needs. I am no animal expert, however, I believe humans are one of the few species that cannot feed ourselves soon after birth. For basic nourishment and caretaking, we rely heavily upon adult caretakers for a relatively long period of time.
As infants, while we are relying on our caretakers, we are also building the neurotransmitter systems in our brains. When babies look into the eyes of their parents, literally thousands of neurons per second get activated and the building of this neuron wiring sets up the building block of our attachment system or structure. When you think of it this way, it is simple: if baby gets her needs met “enough,” she develops what we would call a secure attachment, if baby does not get her needs met “enough” she develops what we would call an “insecure” attachment. By the way, “enough” has been studied and it means that we meet our babies/ children’s needs 30% of the time (or preferably more). That does not mean that 7 out of 10 times are gimme’s! Think about when a baby is crying. You try to figure out what is wrong…diaper? No. Hungry? No. Rocking and singing? Bingo! You just got it wrong twice and right the third time. The trick to this is to keep trying to label and meet a child’s needs and to help them learn to label and name their needs to make it easier for you as they grow. But I digress…
Securely attached children tend to think more along the lines of:
- The world is a safe place.
- I am loving and loveable.
- I get my needs met.
- Adults are reliable.
- If I have a problem, I can usually fix it or get someone to help me.
- My choices make a difference.
Children with insecure attachments tend to think more along the lines of:
- I need to get my own needs met.
- I am bad.
- When I trust people I usually get hurt.
- My choices don’t make any difference.
- I need to fix my own problems.
- People are not trustworthy.
In the classification of insecurely attached children there are two categories. I see these categories as insecurely attached with a structure (anxious or avoidant) and insecurely attached without structure (disorganized) . Why the distinction? Because if you have a child who tends toward anxious/avoidant, you are more likely to be able to predict behaviors and their response to different challenges. However, with a disorganized structure, because the child has no system for tackling issues in place at all, it is incredibly difficult to predict what the child will do in a given situation.
To find out more about attachment disorder please visit the website I participate with www.attachmentdisordermaryland.com. There you will find a wealth of information on this topic.
Stay tuned for future posts on attachment as well!
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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