Younger siblings of children with autism who have insecure attachments to their caregivers are more likely to be diagnosed with autism than are siblings with secure attachments, according to the first study to explore this link.
The findings do not suggest that insecure attachments cause autism. But such attachments may signal autism early and guide interventions for these ‘baby sibs.’
The bond between an infant and caregiver develops through the infant’s interactions with her caregiver, especially during periods of stress. The strength of the attachment reflects the child’s perceptions of the caregiver’s availability and care.
Infants with secure attachments tend to be distressed when separated from their caregivers and soothed when reunited, whereas those with insecure attachments are often difficult to comfort or may avoid their caregivers when reunited after separation.
“Attachment security is important because in typical kids it’s associated with slightly more optimal outcomes,” says lead investigator Daniel Messinger, professor of psychology at the University of Miami in Florida. Secure attachments are associated with positive relationships with peers and an ability to regulate emotions. Insecure attachments are linked to aggression and anxiety.
Therapies that strengthen attachments might improve these children’s later social and emotional functioning.