ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is usually looked at
as a neurological disorder. Often it is an emotional immature reaction.
What a brain scan sees is how the child is thinking at that moment, not
always a disorder in the brain. Attachment Theory can give a good
explanation of why some children behave in an ADHD like way. They can
often be misdiagnosed as having ADHD, although the cause of the ADHD behavior is a lack of attachment.
Attachment Theory was first described by the psychologist John Bowlby
in 1969. Attachment in this context is an emotional bond to another
person. Bowlby believed that the earliest bonds formed by children with
their parents or caregivers have a vital impact their emotional
development, sense of security and sense of self. This lays the base for
a continues emotional development throughout life, and the ability to
form stable and long-term relationships in adult life.
A child between one and a half and 3 years develops a sense of itself
as an individual. In order for this to develop it is necessary for the
child to interact with an adult, the attachment person. When the child
expresses a need or an emotion, the parent or carer interacts with the
child in such a way that the child knows that the carer inderstands it,
yet does not experience the child’s emotion him or herself.
The parent coos, “Ooh, what an angry little baby,” in a soothing
voice. The child’s anger is recognized and the carer mimics this emotion
in a soothing manner. Through this the child learns to understand the
feelings are its own, not shared by the carer, but understood. When the
adult is angry, the child realizes that the anger is in the adult and
not in itself, and starts to imagine how the adult feels. The child then
begins the process of dissociating itself from the world and its own
During this phase, when the child feels secure, a sense of oneself,
as experiencing thoughts and feelings that can effectively guide choices
of actions is stabilized by a caregiver who provides an environment in
which the self is strengthened through this interaction.
On the other hand creation of the emergent self is under serious
threat when it is in close contact with another self, another person,
another mind, if that other person (mind) shows little understanding of
the internal state of the child.
Under conditions of neglect and insensitivity by the child’s carer,
the child responds first in anger and then aggression, which is invoked
so frequently because of parental neglect that it becomes incorporated
into the structure of the self. This results in that self-assertion,
wishes, and needs have to be accompanied by aggression if the self is to
remain intact and stable.
At this point, the neglected child has not been able to dissociate
itself and its emotions from others and the world, so in its attempt to
be understood, it projects its feeling into others. Instead of a healthy
social interaction which starts the process of emotional maturing, the
child is locked into projecting its emotions onto others and is unable
to develop emotionally.
Such distortions of the self are nor irreversible. The acquisition of
the capacity to create a narrative of one’s thoughts and feelings, or
mentalization, can overcome flaws in the organization of the self that
were caused by the disorganization from lack of early attachment.
Mentalization is the capacity to understand and interpret human
behavior in terms of underlying mental states. It develops through a
process of having experienced one self in the mind of another person
during childhood within an attachment relationship, and only matures
adequately within the context of a secure attachment environment.
Not only does the child’s development of mentalization depend
crucially on the child’s social environment, but the maintenance of the
capacity to think and to understand human action in the context of
mental states continues to be a function of social experience.
One effect of childhood dysfunctional attachment is that in order to
cope with the neglect or a threat of neglect by the attachment figure,
the child may (in self defense) close his or her mind to other minds in
general. It is too painful for children to conceive of their attachment
figures neglecting them or causing them harm.
Frequently, the lack of care triggers experiences of lack of safety,
which in turn blocks the children’s attachment systems. They end up
seeking proximity while closing down their mind to social interaction,
resulting in the paradoxical, but common behavior of physically
clinging, while emotionally and mentally distancing themselves. This
often persists and leads to distortions in the development of self.
Seeing a lack of personal emotional involvement from their caregivers,
they get used to experiencing themselves as unlovable and without worth.
Fear of humiliation and lack of understanding prevents children from
exposing their feelings and experiences to their caregivers. If they
show vulnerability, it will be exploited and ridiculed. This is not only
relative to a caregiver, but to the other children in and outside the
home. These children feel themselves in a state of constant threat. Fear
and anxiety is too difficult to cope with on the everyday basis so the
child seeks emotional stability by mental isolation from the environment
A child with an introvert personality is likely to close him or
herself to the outside world. This can develop into ADD (Attention
Deficit Disorder) like behavior. This is daydreaming and being
inattentive of the world around them. The extrover personality may
behave with preemptive acts of aggression which are used to neutralize
any perceived threats. Interpersonal interactions are interpreted in
schematic inaccurate representations. Instead of the healthy state where
they respond to reflections or mirroring of their actions in others,
they project their mental states on others. This prevents them from
being able to perceive the real mental state of the other person.
Hypersillyness, which is seen in some hyperactive children is
sometime a response to the tension inside and the need to be loved and
respected, together with a lack of social insight. This becomes a type
of psychological self harm, as this leads to ridicule and becoming less
popular, yet the child seems oblivious to the fact that it is ridiculed.
The laughter is seen as positive. If one has no feeling of self worth,
even ridicule seems better.
Since they cannot experience safety, this results in frustration and
irritability, provocations and aggression. The behavior patterns called
ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) can develop from this by the child
as a means of defense. The best form of defense is attack, and if one is
under constant tension, perceiving others as threats, then preemptive
attack seem like a good strategy and the only control they feel they
have is disobedience.
This is only one explanation for ODD, there are many others. Oppositional Defiance Disorder and ADHD are two conditions which occur together in some children, this is called comorbid, but in the cases described these are not the disorders as described in conventional diagnoses. They are emotionally severely impaired by a lack of attachment and react as they do out of self defence. The cure for these children is healing, through an attachment and bonding relationship.