Objective: This study examined social behaviors related to attachment in children with autistic disorder and the differences in these behaviors from those observed in developmentally disabled children. Additionally, we aimed to investigate the relationship between attachment behaviors and clinical variables, such as age, cognitive development, severity of autism, language development, and mothers' attachment styles.
Method: The study group consisted of 19 children with autistic disorder (mean age: 37.9 +/- 6.8 months) and the control group consisted of 18 developmentally disabled children without autistic disorder that were matched with respect to age, gender, and cognitive development. The Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) was administered to all the children by two child psychiatrists. Mothers completed the Relationships Scale Questionnaire (RSQ). Cognitive development of the children was assessed with the Stanford-Binet intelligence scale. Attachment behaviors of the children were evaluated with a modified Strange Situation Procedure (SSP).
Results: Attachment behaviors in the children with autistic disorder and in the children with developmental disabilities were similar. In contrast to the developmentally disabled group, the children with autistic disorder stayed closer toward their mothers compared with their responses to strangers. In the autistic disorder group, attachment behaviors were not associated with age, intelligence quotient, or mothers' attachment styles; however, a significant relationship between the severity of autism and the presence of speech was observed.
Conclusion: Parents' understanding of the attachment needs and the attachment behaviors of their autistic children in the early stages of the disorder may lead to more secure attachment relationships and improved social development.