Development and Psychopathology


Attachment security in children with autism

Lisa Cappsa1, Marian Sigmana1 c1 and Peter Mundya2

a1 University of California, Los Angeles

a2 University of Miami


Nineteen autistic children were examined in a modified version of Ainsworth's Strange Situation. The attachment security of 15 children could be classified. Each of these children displayed disorganized attachment patterns, but almost half (40%) of them were subclassified as securely attached. To assess the validity of the attachment classifications, children and their mothers were observed in a separate interaction. Mothers of children who were subclassified as securely attached displayed greater sensitivity than mothers of children who were subclassified as insecurely attached. Children who were subclassified as securely attached more frequently initiated social interaction with their mothers than did children who were subclassified as insecurely attached. Children with secure and insecure subclassifications were compared to investigate correlations between attachment organization and representational ability and social-emotional understanding. Although children with underlying secure attachments were no more likely to initiate joint attention, they were more responsive to bids for joint attention, made requests more frequently, and demonstrated greater receptive language ability than children subclassified as insecurely attached. Discussion focuses on dynamics that may contribute to individual differences in the attachment organization of autistic children and on the reciprocal relationship between advances in our understanding of normal and pathological development.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Marian Sigman, UCLA Medical School, 68-237B NPI, 760 Westwood Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90024.