This is a question that we are regularly asked in training sessions.
It is true that Professor Antoine Guedeney, author of the ADBB Scale, is a leading figure in attachment theory in France and in the world. It is also not uncommon that in the in-depth training of the ADBB, we pay specific attention to attachment and finally, it is also true that when we are interested in early interactions, and this is the case with the ADBB, attachment theory is never very far away.
Some elements of response:
The answer is NO, with the ADBB, we cannot assess attachment, but we can do better: we can detect an alarm signal that comes from the baby and that informs us that something in his environment or in his development, sometimes both, interferes with the organization of his attachment strategy.. The advantage of the ADBB is that we can identify this alarm signal very early in the process of explicit symptomatology, and before any observation scale of attachment behavior is valid, since the attachment strategy can be observed at the earliest from 9-10 months of age of the child.
It is known that chronic relational withdrawal, which is evaluated by the ADBB, is the observable sign in the child of a chronic dysinchrony of parent-child interactions that impacts the child’s ability to enter into a relationship. In the absence of organic explanatory factors such as a vision/hearing disorder, dyadic (triadic) dysinchrony is always part of a psychological difficulty of the parent. Indeed, the inability or difficulty to meet the needs of a baby is rooted in the history of the parent and his or her life context, the stress that he or she is undergoing…
The links between relational withdrawal and “disorganized” attachment.
The parent can then, because he or she is himself or herself frightened by life, or because he or she encounters particular psychological difficulties, become frightening for his or her child, either by not responding to his or her needs, or by responding in an inadequate, unpredictable, dangerous or even frightening way.
For the child, it is then difficult to organize his behavior, to adapt to this parent in order to ensure the continuous and sufficient care of a protective adult. The child’s attachment strategy will be affected
The so-called “disorganized” attachment is of particular interest to us in this context because, unlike the suboptimal insecure but organized attachment strategies, it is correlated with increased developmental risk.
Relational withdrawal: a strategy for waiting when things are not going well…
The relational withdrawal of the baby could then be understood as an adaptation to the context implemented by the baby and genetically programmed (relational withdrawal is universally present in all cultures) to promote survival. It is an economic waiting behavior of the baby. He waits for his development to offer him other resources to organize his attachment strategy or for his environment to evolve.
The ADBB’s contribution to informed attachment assessments.
Thus, with the ADBB, we do not assess attachment but the presence of a behavioural alarm signal from the baby that informs us that the relational precursors at the basis of the organization of the attachment strategy may not be functioning as well as we would like in a perspective of prevention of psychopathology. Thus, if the ADBB does not assess attachment per se, it is very much part of the arsenal for assessment and informed attachment interventions. It can be used whenever there are questions about the parent/baby bond.
ADBB’s contribution to evaluations of the effectiveness of interventions.
Moreover, it has been shown that the level of relational withdrawal decreases when interventions focused on the relationship are carried out, in particular by using video feedback. In the dyads that benefited from relationship-centered interventions, there was a decrease in the relational withdrawal of the babies after the intervention. Thus, if we improve parental sensitivity, if we carry out an informed attachment intervention with the aim of promoting the most secure attachment possible, the ADBB will make it possible to demonstrate the effectiveness of this type of intervention by showing the evolution of the baby’s relational withdrawal behavior..
Directions for research
To conclude, when we observe a baby in the strange situation (the “GOLD STANDART” attachment assessment procedure), i.e., between the ages of 12 and 18 months, we can be struck by the variations in relational withdrawal (which we would then describe as reactionary) that can be observed from one moment to the next in the procedure. Thus, during training and for non-clinical attachment strategies, infants using a type A strategy (hypo activation) are more withdrawn in the presence of the attachment figure and more relationally engaged in the presence of the stranger. The child using a Type B (Balanced) strategy may express a small moment of relational withdrawal upon the stranger’s arrival, which is a healthy and normal behavior. Finally, a child using a Type C strategy of hyperactivation of attachment signals may express relational withdrawal somewhat consistently but at low and just clinical levels, which makes sense and may be explained by the fact that the strategy of hyperactivation of attachment signals does not mix well with the strategy of sparing relational withdrawal and would not be functional dyadically.
These observations are purely empirical and scientific validation would be interesting. If such profiles could be validated, then it would be possible to assess attachment with the ADBB. But we are not there yet. In the meantime, if you want to know more about relational withdrawal behavior, its links with attachment and psychopathology and especially to learn how to detect and assess it with the ADBB scale, go to the online training site.
Costa, R., & Figueiredo, B. (2012). Infants’ behavioral and physiological profile and mother–infant interaction. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 36(3), 205-214.
Tereno, S., Madigan, S., Lyons-Ruth, K., Plamondon, A., Atkinson, L., Guedeney, N., . . . Guedeney, A. (2017). Assessing a change mechanism in a randomized home-visiting trial: Reducing disrupted maternal communication decreases infant disorganization. Development and Psychopathology, 29(2), 637-649. doi:http://dx.doi.org.proxy.bnl.lu/10.1017/S0954579417000232
Puura, K., Guedeney, A., Mäntymaa, M., & Tamminen, T. (2007). Detecting infants in need: Are complicated measures really necessary?. Infant Mental Health Journal, 28(4), 409-421.
(Guedeney, A., Guedeney, N., Tereno, S., Dugravier, R., Greacen, T., Welniarz, B., & Saias, T. (2011). The time of the infant, parent-infant desynchronization and attachment disorganization. Or ow long does it take for a preventive action to be effective?.)