Monday, April 24, 2006

Attachment disorder

Who uses it: Child development experts and psychiatrists
What it means: A condition that prevents children and adolescents from trusting others or forming emotional attachments to parents, family and friends.
How you can use it: Pray you never have to.

Attachment disorder happens to children who are abused or neglected very early in their lives. The theory is that if no one responds to a child's needs in the first year of her life, the brain itself fails to complete its development. Instead of learning love and trust, the child learns -- at a biological level -- that no one is paying attention, no one cares, and the child had better figure out how to meet her own needs, just as an animal would.

Child development specialists and psychiatrists see attachment disorder in children who have lived in overcrowded, understaffed orphanages; in homes with parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol; and in children who have grown up in environments where circumstances made it impossible to meet their needs, such as war or famine.

"It's a hard world for little things," says Rachel in the movie Night of the Hunter, which was why I was so happy to spend a couple of days with my sister Peggy and her brood. This will embarrass Peggy and Scott, but I don't care; their children, Matthew and Henry and Meg, are three of the happiest, most delightful kids I've ever met, and I'd say that even if I weren't related to them.

I sat at the kids' table with Matthew and Henry on Saturday night; they wore new engineer hats, gifts from my dad, and I wore a Frankenstein headband (I trust that the photographic evidence of this will be on the Lavinder family blog later today). Lilly Dean, who is also a lovely child, said to me, "You look funny."

"Oh," I said sadly. "I thought I looked pretty."

She looked at me solemnly and honestly, as only a four-year-old can, and said, "No, you don't look pretty. You look funny."

"Yes, I guess I do," I said.

Henry, next to me, peered into my face, patted my arm, and said, "I think you look pretty." Henry is two and a half.

That is the opposite of attachment disorder.

I'm in Washington today, until Thursday, and I apologize for not posting yesterday; it took me a while to figure out how to get online.

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