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Parental Sensitivity and Attachment in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: Comparison With Children With Mental Retardation, With Language Delays, and With Typical Development


  • This research was supported by research grants to van IJzendoorn and Bakermans–Kranenburg from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO SPINOZA Prize; NWO VIDI Grant 452-04-306), and by research grants to Buitelaar, Swinkels, and van Engeland (Korczak Foundation, Ministry of Health, Welfare, and Culture, Cure Autism Now, NWO-MW and NWO-Chronic Diseases, and Praeventie Fonds).

concerning this article should be addressed to Marinus van IJzendoorn, Centre for Child and Family Studies, Leiden University, PO Box 9555, NL-2300RB Leiden, the Netherlands. Electronic mail may be sent to


This study on sensitivity and attachment included 55 toddlers and their parents. Samples included children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mental retardation, language delay, and typical development. Children were diagnosed at 4 years of age. Two years before diagnosis, attachment was assessed with the Strange Situation procedure, and parental sensitivity and child involvement during free play were assessed with the Emotional Availability Scale. Parents of children with ASD were equally sensitive as parents of children without ASD, but their children showed more attachment disorganization and less child involvement. More sensitive parents had more secure children, but only in the group without ASD. Less severe autistic symptoms in the social domain predicted more attachment security. Autism challenges the validity of attachment theory.