Friday, March 15, 2013

Orphanages affect Attachment Theory

The article The Disconnected; Attachment Theory: The Ultimate Experiment is an in-depth exploration of the consequences of neglect during childhood. It discusses a number of specific studies, stories of real families and interviews with doctors and psychologists. There is a clear focus on children adopted from orphanages in Romania and the former Soviet Union since many Americans adopt from there and their orphanage system is unable to give each child the proper kind of attention. This causes both mental and physical problems. Many of children who spent time in an orphanage develop an attachment disorder and have trouble trusting and being unable to love even after they are adopted and properly cared for.

A specific study done in the late part of the twentieth century is known as the Strange Situation. It observes the reactions of one-year-olds to their mothers (or fathers) leaving them in an unfamiliar room full of toys all alone or leaving them there with an unfamiliar researcher. Both the reactions to the parent’s exit and return are recorded and the attachment of the child is judged based on their level of happiness or distress. When a follow up experiment was done with the same group of children once they were already in school, the more “securely attached” children seemed to be overall better liked and more successful. This study is criticized because one reaction of a child to a mom’s exit and return may not describe the child’s entire disposition to the mother. Factors like mood and distraction may have to be accounted for. However, in my opinion, this is a rather accurate way of testing the child’s attachment. From my own experiences, I know that no matter what distractions there may be, a healthy one-year-old is always on the look out for his/her parent.

Another interesting point is that children suffering from attachment disorder tend to be untrustworthy of adoptive families and familiar caretakers. They are often unable to show love but tend to be overly friendly with strangers. The article does not really explain why this is but I assume that these children want to get attention and this is the one way they know how. The article does say that the most resilient children from orphanages (who seem to have none or few disabilities) are the ones who somehow knew the charm the caregivers into greater amounts of affection and attention.

Orphanages may give children plenty of interaction. However, this interaction is not with adults, mostly just with similar kids of the same age. The article even mentioned that multiple children tend to share one crib. Infants and toddlers need to see (and be part of) natural adult interaction and behavior in order to develop an understanding of what is socially appropriate and normal. Instead, they each learn to fend for themselves and develop a variety of strange behaviors and a lack of understanding when it comes to interaction and care.

The adoptive parents of children who seem to be unable to love or become attached and find the need to lie and steal without a clear reason seek help from clinics such as the Attachment Center at Evergreen. There, psychologists and doctors work on such cases using things like “holding therapy”. This helps a child to learn to be held (and become comfortable with it) while freely releasing their emotions and thoughts. This is quite controversial but seems to be helping a number of families.

I believe that overall the more attached a child is on childhood, the better. Later on in life, they will likely be confident enough knowing that they have support and love not to be clingy. However, they will also think of others, keeping themselves from being selfish or thinking twice if they think they may disappoint their loved ones.

No comments: