Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behaviour, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments to primary care giving figures in early childhood resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviours. Such a failure would result from unusual early experiences of neglect, abuse, abrupt separation from caregivers after about 6 months of age but before about three years of age, frequent change of caregivers or excessive numbers of caregivers, or lack of caregiver responsiveness to child communicative efforts. A problematic history of social relationships occurring after about age three may be distressing to a child, but does not result in attachment disorder.
The term attachment disorder is most often used to describe emotional and behavioural problems of young children, but is sometimes applied to school-age children or even to adults. The specific difficulties implied depend on the age of the individual being assessed, and a child’s attachment-related behaviours may be very different with one familiar adult than with another, suggesting that the disorder is within the relationship and interactions of the two people rather than an aspect of one or the other personality. No list of symptoms can legitimately be presented but generally the term attachment disorder refers to the absence or distortion of age appropriate social behaviours with adults. For example, in a toddler, attachment-disordered behaviour could include a failure to stay near familiar adults in a strange environment or to be comforted by contact with a familiar person, whereas in a six-year-old attachment-disordered behaviour might involve excessive friendliness and inappropriate approaches to strangers.