Intensive therapy at an early age: it's no magic wand but it helps

Children with attachment disorder are typically destructive, aggressive towards their adoptive parents and have problems at school and making friends, says Sheila Fearnley (pictured left), psychotherapist at the Keys Attachment Centre, Lancashire.

"With attachment disorder, there are two types of behaviour:either the child doesn't attach at all - something families often describe as like living with a lodger. Or the child forms indiscriminate superficial attachments and may go off with anyone."

Ms Fearnley is currently treating a nine-year-old girl with attachment disorder who was placed with her adoptive parents at six weeks. "This little girl started being destructive and argumentative at two but her parents, like most others, thought they could contain it. Then they went through a period of blaming themselves, which is also common. It's when they are coming up to secondary school age that the parents become fearful about how they'll grow up."

The intensive therapy offered by the Keys, an independent body which takes referrals from local authority social services, is based on unravelling the child's feelings about his or her origins. "Often the children believe that if they were given up once, they can be given up again," says Ms Fearnley. "These questions are addressed in therapy sessions which include adoptive parents, teachers and social workers where appropriate." Treatment, either residential or on a day-patient basis, is continued intensively for a year or more. "The most important thing is for those involved with the child to understand how they see the world. This particular girl's view is that she will always get into trouble and so she always does."

Increased awareness of attachment disorder means that more parents are seeking help earlier: the Keys currently has several referrals of six and under. This means that nowadays there are fewer families like the Edwards - facing years without recognition or help. "We can't wave a magic wand," says Ms Fearnley, "but we can make the situation less desperate for both parents and children."

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