The presence of limits or distortions in the children's communicative behaviours (due to a chronic illness) may interfere with the possibility to build secure attachment relationships. Moreover, the distress that the atypical chronic illness condition brings to family life may interfere the intergenerational transmission of attachment.
This study evaluated the associations between maternal attachment representations, emotional availability and mother-child attachment in a clinical and in a comparison group. Forty infants (23 female) in their 14th month of life and their mothers participated in this study, 20 dyads with clinical infants (10 premature infants and 10 infants affected by atopic dermatitis) and 20 full-term and healthy comparison infants. The Adult Attachment Interview, the Emotional Availability Scales (EAS) and the Strange Situation Procedure were used to assess, respectively, the security of mothers' attachment representations, the emotional availability and the quality of mother-child attachment.
We found that the two groups (clinical vs. comparison) did not differ with respect to the Adult Attachment Interview and the Emotional Availability Scales measures. A significant difference was found in the distribution of the infant-mother attachment patterns, with a higher incidence of insecure infants in the clinical group. In the typically developing group, more secure maternal attachment representations predicted more emotional availability in mother-infant interactions, which predicted more secure infant-mother attachments. However, we did not find similar support for intergenerational transmission of attachment in the clinical group.
We speculate that constant concerns about the child's health condition and communicative difficulties of clinical infants may hamper or even mitigate the intergenerational transmission of attachment.