Inhibited and disinhibited attachment behavior in adopted children: the role of early adversity and post-adoption environmental factors
Due to early adversity and disruptions in caregiving, adopted children often show developmental delays and are at risk for developing a variety of social, psychological, and behavioral problems, especially disorganized attachment and attachment disturbances. Emerging evidence indicates that quality of caregiving conditions in adoptive family can present protective factors which help to buffer the negative effect of preadoptive adversity. Recent studies have been investigating mainly intercountry adoptees, and the present study is the first study investigating inhibited and disinhibited attachment behavior in both domestic and intercountry adoptions.
The sample comprises 221 adopted children between 12 and 145 months (165 domestic adoptions and 56 intercountry adoptions) which have been adopted within the last two years. Children’s attachment disturbances were measured with the Relationships Problem Questionnaire and the Disturbances of Attachment Interview. Child factors (age, age at adoption, gender), pre-adoptive stressors (e.g., experiences of maltreatment and neglect, placement changes) and family-related factors (adoptive parents’ childhood experiences and emotion regulation, parenting, parenting stress, family characteristics) were included as potential predictors of children’s attachment disturbances.
Results: The results show that 15% of adopted children (domestic: 11%, intercountry: 25%) scored in the clinical level when screening for symptoms of inhibited and/or disinhibited attachment behavior. Multiple regression analyses revealed that the severity of maltreatment and neglect as well as adoptive parents’ self-reported parenting stress and self-efficacy significantly predicted inhibited symptoms whereas disinhibited symptoms were solely predicted by adoptive parents’ self-reported parenting stress and emotion-regulation.
The present study confirms results of international studies as early adversity was found to predict the occurrence of reactive disorder symptoms as well as symptoms of disinhibited attachment behavior. Moreover, our results highlight the role of family-related factors beyond sensitivity for adopted children’s attachment behavior, especially when developing interventions for adoptive families.