Developmental Aspects of Attachment Behavior in Young Children with Pervasive Developmental Disorders

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The present study applied a continuous, clinically based rating system to compare predictions about attachment behavior in autism resulting from three different theoretical views and to characterize differences in attachment behavior of young autistic children.


The attachment behaviors of 32 young children with autism or pervasive developmental disorder were examined in a modified “strange situation.‘’ Attachment behaviors were rated on a continuous scale and on the Ainsworth subscales. Attachment ratings were compared with several developmental variables, including chronological age, mental age, language level, and social level.


The continuous rating scale distinguished signs of security from signs of insecurity, allowing for behavioral idiosyncracies in the expression of attachment behavior seen in autistic children. The study found that 50% of the children demonstrated some behaviors indicative of secure attachment, that no children were unattached, and that developmental level rather than severity of autism was the strongest predictor of attachment security.


Autism does not preclude the development of secure attachment relationships in young children, but rather it delays the development of secure attachment and may alter the behavioral patterns that express attachment security. J. Am. Acad. ChildAdolesc. Psychiatry, 1993, 32, 6:1274–1282.

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