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Differentiating "Attachment Difficulties" From Autism Spectrum Disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Qualitative Interviews With Experienced Health Care Professionals.

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van IJzendoorn, Marinus H 
Woolgar, Matt 
Weisblatt, Emma JL 
Duschinsky, Robbie 


OBJECTIVES: "Attachment difficulties" is an umbrella term often used to describe various forms of non-secure attachment. Differentiating "attachment difficulties" from autism spectrum disorder (hereafter autism) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been characterized as challenging. Few studies have explored how this happens in practice, from the perspective of professionals. DESIGN: Qualitative study. METHODS: We conducted in-depth semi-structured interviews with (n = 17) healthcare professionals from five NHS Foundation Trusts in the United Kingdom. Participants were recruited using a combination of snowballing, convenience and purposive sampling. Data were analyzed using a thematic approach. RESULTS: We identified six interrelated themes that might reflect difficulties with differential conceptualization. These include: a clinical lexicon of attachment; approaching attachment with caution; contextual factors; perceived characteristic behaviors; assessing attachment and adjacent supports; spotlighting intervention and dual conceptualization. CONCLUSION: Our results indicate some of the ways suspicions around attachment are raised in practice. We advocate for more dialogue between research and practice communities on issues of differential conceptualization. We call for collaboration between a panel of experts consisting of attachment and neurodevelopmental orientated practitioners and researchers, to clarify issues around differentiating between attachment difficulties, ASD, and ADHD.



ADHD, assessment, attachment–a strong affectional bond, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), qualitative analysis

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Front Psychol

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Frontiers Media SA
Wellcome Trust (218025/A/19/Z)