Attachment and the corresponding reaction to separation are part of the psychological development of a child as it ages. Each child goes through various stages of attachment to their primary caregiver and strangers alike. As a child stagnates in one stage, the potential for a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome, autism, or other autism spectrum disorders is possible. Healthy progression will lead to socially appropriate behaviors later in life.
As attachment theory was being studied, the researchers focused on stranger anxiety, separation anxiety, and social referencing. Infants, aged six weeks to 7 months have indiscriminate attachments. Babies at this age like human company, no matter who the caregiver is. They respond to other people equally and without discrimination. They can easily get upset when another person stops interacting with them. A 6-month-old child is smiling more than earlier in life and is easily comforted by a caregiver that they are familiar with. The child recognizes that its behavior leads to specific goals, and it can use the attachment with the caregiver to get what it wants (McLeod, 2009).
As the child becomes a toddler, around the age of 13 months when it starts to walk and become mobile, it shows attachment as a desire to keep the caregiver close. These behaviors are shown through protesting the caregiver leaving the child and happiness when they return. They physically and verbally greet the caregiver when they return. The child clings when they are scared and typically follow the adult when they can. As the child learns to walk, they use the caregiver as a based to come back to after short exploration trips. When the caregiver is present, toddler feels more comfortable and relaxed allowing them to explore further. If the caregiver is not available or active in the relationship at the moment, the toddler will exhibit attachment behaviors. If the caregiver exhibits illness, fatigue, or anxiety, the toddler will react accordingly (McLeod, 2009).
Delays and atypical behaviors related to Aspergers are observable in the first two years of life. Some children with Aspergers do not show typical amounts of interest and pleasure in other people. Babies with Aspergers may exhibit fewer interests and activities and might even babble less than their peers. Your baby may seem less interested in communicating through sounds or physical gestures, and his speech may be delayed to some extent or robotically copied from books or TV shows (Hutten).
Children with Aspergers do form better attachments with caregivers than children with more severe forms of autism spectrum disorders, but bonding issues will be identifiable. Often, these children attach to their parents well but do not form bonds with peers. As children pass through toddlerhood Asperger’s children, do tend to engage in one-way conversation with caregivers and other adults more so than with children of their age (Hutten).
Children with Aspergers tend to favor being alone instead of being in the company of other people. They passively accept being touched by others such as hugs and cuddling without returning the touch or resisting altogether. As they age, the Aspergers child will most likely rarely seek the comfort of others. They often do not respond to the anger or affection of their caregivers in a typical way. Researchers have found that Aspergers children are attached to their parents, but the way that they show this attachment is different than typically developed children. This difference is often difficult for the caregiver to interpret and understand (Hutten).
There are ways for caregivers and educators alike to help ease transitions for children with Aspergers. Firstly, Hutten notes “Being sensitive and responsive to very young children seems to be the key. This means you are there when the child needs you and that you can be counted on to meet his needs, especially social needs.” Caregivers and educators should be highly responsive to young children to respond swiftly and efficiently to the needs of the child. This response should also be attuned to what the child needs at that moment. This is especially true for crying episodes. Children who are secure in their attachments know that the adults around them will take care of them. Therefore embracing the child’s needs will build attachment (Hutten).
In balance with the ability to respond to the child’s needs, caregivers should also be careful to avoid over stimulation of the Asperger’s child. It is easy for these children to become over excited. They might not have to the words to indicated that they need a break or the ability to walk to move out of the situation. Caregivers should look for clues such as looking down or away as an indication that they should leave the child alone for a little while to let then calm down (Hutten).
Caregivers should work on building secure attachments with young children, in particular with those with Asperger’s. This will improve function and trust. To develop this attachment, the adult should practice back and form interactions. The child can send a signal, the adult responds, followed by the child’s response. This back and forth interaction builds trust, the child’s thinking skills and attachment to the caregiver (Hutten).
Learning about attachment and the processes of human development will help me greatly in my career. There will often be times of stress in the classroom as caregivers leave and children feel anxiety. I too will take on the role of caregiver as children potentially form attachments to me. I will certainly use the skills outlined above to work with children with attachment disorders.
- Hutten, M. (n.d.). Aspergers Children and Attachment Problems . Retrieved from My Aspergers Child: http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/09/aspergers-children-and-attachment.html
- McLeod, S. (2009). Attachment Theory. Retrieved from Simply Psychology: http://www.simplypsychology.org/attachment.html#stages