How to Know Where to Start In Healing a Child With Attachment Disorder

By | 2017-02-01T01:00:01+00:00 February 1st, 2017|

How do you know where to start healing a child with attachment disorder?

Well children with attachment disorder are usually diagnosed because of their behaviors, which are an outflow of their strong internal negative reaction to trust and dependency.

The behaviors of a child with attachment disorder are all self-protective and had served the child very well, at one time in their life. Therefore, these behaviors are subconscious survival defense mechanisms, which is where the child is in automatic mode in their brain’s operating system.

Even as an adult, the reactions to trust and dependency on others can be unconscious. These reactions are stored in the nervous system, in the wiring of our neurons, and even in the processing of brain chemicals.  Dan Siegel’s work on “Interpersonal Neurobiology” has been fundamental in showing how social relationships influence brain wiring and chemical.

Our attachment style becomes our hardware, and thus, behaviors are just the symptom of a much deeper issue. However, this begs the questions, how do I make my child’s behaviors stop? Where do I start in healing a child with attachment disorder?

What Doesn’t Heal Children

First, let’s begin by understanding what will not work, so you don’t waste your time and money on things that won’t be effective in the long run.

Because we now know that behaviors are just a symptom, all forms of therapy or treatment that deal with changing one’s behaviors will not work in the long-term. Until we fix the underlying problem, the surface symptom will require such a degree of effort to control that it will be unsustainable, and they will either develop other behaviors or resort back to their previous outbursts.

Similarly, talk therapy, or also known as cognitive behavioral therapy, will also not work in the long-term, because it doesn’t get down to the level of the unconscious, the neurons, or the brain chemicals.

The other major form of therapy employed for children that will not work is play therapy.  For example, play therapy is very useful when determining what unconscious programming in the brain is repeating itself; however, general play therapy is not going to resolve the faulty unconscious programming.

In some children, I have seen play therapy make the child’s behaviors and emotional sys-regulation worse, because it brought up, covered up, or dissociated insecurities that were not resolved in the play therapy.

What Will Heal Children

The therapies and interventions that will heal the underlying attachment neurobiology include four different categories of the underlying causes of mood, emotional, and behavioral disorders. These four categories are:

  • -Biology/genetics
  • -Neurodevelopment
  • -Attachment disorder
  • Trauma (relational or physical)

One of the most helpful things to look for in one’s moods and behaviors are clues that there is a core biological problem. This can be done by a very thorough timeline of when symptoms began that were related to different events, and by listing all of the child’s physical health concerns.

It is fairly simple and affordable to do genetics testing through 23andme these days, which can check for some of the more common genetic causes of mood and behavioral disorders. These include the methylation and folate/B12 pathways and the production and processing of brain chemicals. This can also incorporate detoxification pathways, which are those children who are severely compromised with toxins that are building up in their blood and tissues, and thus, causing irritability.

Biological causes could also be gut problems including food sensitivities, imbalanced gut bacteria, or yeast growth in the intestines. These can be diagnosed with various tests such as, blood tests for food sensitivities (IgG being the most important antibody reaction to test) and stool studies.

Then there is a neurodevelopment category for mood and behavior disorders. Poor neurodevelopment can be from traumatic births (cord wrapped around body or neck or suction cup for example) or physical containment during infancy where the appropriate movements were not sufficient (examples are not enough tummy time, sitting in car seats for prolonged periods of time). In these examples, because of restricted movements, the necessary neuro-developmental milestones could not be reached leading to faulty development of the nervous system.

Therapies to address neurodevelopment can include Neuro-reorganization and Neurofeedback.  If there is a lot of anxiety involved, biofeedback can also be very helpful.

Attachment disorder of course is a common cause of emotional dys-regulation, and thus emotional and behavioral disorders. Having an attachment therapist on the team, or someone in that role is very helpful. The child is usually able to make much more progress in their development of trust by having a good attachment therapist.

In-home attachment intervention is where the bulk of healing is done with a child who has attachment disorder. Attachment parenting is crucial and will be discussed further later on in the blog.

Whether or not a child also has attachment disorder, trauma is the last category of underlying causes of emotional and behavioral disorders.

Trauma can be due to relational trauma (separation or emotional disconnection) with the early primary caregiver or maternal figure. Trauma can also be due to medical procedures, illnesses, neglect, or abuse in early life.

There are a few different therapies and interventions that are very useful at fully healing a brain effected by trauma, and there are different clues that one will look for in a child to know which intervention will likely be the best one to start with.

EMDR, Somatic Therapy and Instinctual Trauma Response Model has been very effective in healing a brain by restoring healthy wiring and chemicals within the brain.

A clue you will want to look for would be whether or not there is shame involved. If so, Instinctual Trauma Response Model will be very helpful.

If there are actual memories and flashbacks involved, EMDR and ITRM can be most effective.

If there seems to be a restriction of movement in general, as if at times they are almost frozen, quiet, wide-eyed, or wanting to be invisible, somatic or bodywork can be very helpful. This can be in the form of Somatic Experiencing or yoga, especially when done specifically in a manner that is heals the body from trauma.

If their movements tend to be uncoordinated, not only will somatic work be helpful, but you might also consider neuro-reorganization, as well.

Regardless of what the underlying causes of the mood and behavioral disorders, attachment parenting is needed to help establish, maintain security, and a safe emotional space for the child to develop.

Because parents can swing from accommodating the child to what they want, either due to sympathy or fear of the tantrums, to swinging to being militant and emotionally disconnected, parents must take caution. If a parent follows the principles of attachment parenting, they will avoid both of those extremes and the disastrous results they could bring, and will therefore, be able to provide a safe, nurturing relationship and environment for the child.

The principles of attachment parenting state that a safe relationship is one in which there are boundaries and clear expectations of behavior. This should be well balanced with empathy and nurture in order to understanding how meeting some of those expectations can be hard. In attachment parenting, the parents are the ones who lead the family rather than the child, and who are the ones to express empathy rather than sympathy.

Final Words

In summary, whether or not a child has attachment disorder, attachment parenting principles are the most effective way to parent any child with mood and behavioral disorders.  In the mean time, continue looking for clues in possible biological causes, by getting a genetics test (currently $200) completed, and by observing carefully the history of the child to see if there could be a role for trauma, food sensitivities, or mold, which could be contributing to the problem behaviors!

Have you had experience with any of the therapies?

Where do you think a parent should start if they have a child with attachment disorder?

Cheering you on!

Dr. Aimie

Related: Working With Children With Attachment Disorder

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