A mother’s intelligence does not have a significant effect on her child’s style of attachment, according to the first study on attachment among children whose mothers have mild intellectual disabilities (ID).
The research, conducted by Stockholm and Uppsala universities in Sweden, found that a significant proportion of these children have secure attachments and that only a small minority have disorganized attachment.
Mothers with ID who had been severely abused during their own childhood, however, typically had children with attachment insecurity or disorganization. The researchers concluded it was the mothers’ history of severe maltreatment, and not their intellectual deficits, that was the risk factor for their child’s attachment.
Notably, no previous research has investigated attachment among children of parents with ID. This knowledge gap is surprising, as issues related to child attachment often figure in custody hearings.
Parents with ID are often considered a general risk to their child’s development. In fact, many parents with ID lose child custody, often based on an assumption that their ID makes them unable to provide sufficient caregiving.
Research has shown that a child’s attachment quality is often the result of caregiving with secure attachment resulting from sensitive and competent care; insecure attachment resulting from insensitive care (e.g., rejection); and disorganized attachment from inconsistent care and abuse.
Furthermore, attachment quality is an important predictor of the child’s social and emotional development; secure attachment acts as a protective factor, and insecure, particularly disorganized, attachment as a vulnerability factor.
The study involved a group of 23 mothers who had been diagnosed with ID before the age of 18. In addition to maternal ID, the roles of maltreatment in the mothers’ biographies and their intelligence were investigated.
The research included a comparison group of 25 mothers who had a normal range of intelligence and were also a match for factors such as residential area, income, child age, and sex.
The children were ages five to eight years, and their attachment qualities were assessed through a developmentally appropriate attachment measure. Among children of mothers with ID, a substantial minority (35 percent) were found to have a secure attachment, similar to the results of other risk groups.
Unlike many other risk groups, however, only a small minority (less than 20 percent) of these children showed disorganized attachments. These results were similar to children in the matched comparison group. However, mothers with ID who had suffered severe abuse did pose a significant risk for child disorganization and insecurity.
Source: Stockholm University