The Indicators of Difficulties In Attachment Scale (IDAS)

June 1998 Version

Dr. Charles Emmrys Ph.D. L. Psych

(Revised with permission – G. H. deVink 1998)


The IDAS is intended as a general measure of indicators commonly found in children and adolescents who have suffered identifiable and important difficulties in their relationship with key attachment figures. These may include children who have been placed in a large number of foster care placements, children with a history of neglect and or abuse in their family of origin, children from families where one or both parents have suffered from a psychiatric illness, or children with severe neurological symptoms likely to affect bonding (such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette's Syndrome or other disorders affecting impulse control, attention and mood). This scale samples behaviour we believe are typically associated with chronic difficulties in creating and sustaining meaningful and fulfilling relationship with those closest to us, a competency we refer to as attachment.

The scale was developed from the perspective of attachment theory. In understanding attachment, human motivation is seen in relational terms. Likewise, the pro or antisocial self-defining acts that situate a person in society are only really meaningful within the context of his or her important relationships. The assumption being made in theory and in designing this scale, therefore, is that disruptive behaviours fulfil an essential function in a child or adolescent's psychological life. To be more specific, these behaviours are seen as effective strategies that provide means by which key relationships in the child's life can be pursued albeit in a dysfunctional way. That many of these relationship strategies are eventually hurtful and traumatising does not diminish their essential role in keeping the child in the orbit of those to whom he or she he is positively or negatively attached. They serve to prevent the far worse possibility - that of having no attachments at all. That these behaviours are often pursued compulsively regardless of how often they are punished for it speaks to the importance of their role in the child's psychological survival.

Dysfunctional strategies replace the 'normal' positive expressions of closeness and intimacy when past experiences or neurological difficulties make the bonding process too difficult for the child to tolerate. Antisocial and hurtful contact strategies used by these children have the advantage of keeping important persons in the child's life close while avoiding the real psycho-emotional intimacy which the child fears.

It is assumed that the user of this instrument is familiar with attachment theory as it applies to conduct disordered or oppositional/defiant children. Influenced by Bowlby (1988, 1973, 1969) and Ainsworth (1981, 1978) as well as by recent authors such as Holland (1993), Hughes (1997), Steinhauer (1991) and James (1994), the instrument also reflects some theoretical innovations by the author.

The questions included in this instrument limit themselves to exploring relationship issues. Symptoms more clearly associated with ADHD (such as impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity), Tourette's Syndrome (such as ticks, impulsive and compulsive behaviours), anxiety disorders (such as school refusal, phobias or separation anxiety), bipolar disorder (mood liability) and depression (such as depressed affect or social isolation) were not sampled, although the content of specific items included in this scale in isolation, may relate to and also be symptomatic of these disorders.

The clinician should note, however, that conduct disordered children with attachment disorders usually have been diagnosed with several other disorders by the time they are 12 to 14. The most common of these are ADHD, Oppositional/Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Tourette's syndrome. These are clinical descriptors considered by many to be, in part, a result of neurological dysfunction.

The question of whether attachment disordered children comprises an identifiable subgroup within behaviourally disordered or mood disordered children remains and may also be of interest to clinicians and diagnosticians. The authors have taken the position that attachment is a basic dimension of psychological and social life that is particularly important to the developmental processes of childhood and adolescence. We believe that, like intelligence, it has a pervasive impact on all areas of daily living. As such, identifying dysfunctions in this domain is clinically relevant and we suggest that an assessment of attachment factors should be a part of every diagnostic endeavour involving children, adolescents or families.

The IDAS is a questionnaire that offers clinicians a tool by which to measure attachment. It does so by assessing the degree to which the child or adolescent relies on pseudo-intimacy strategies to secure their attachment needs. This indirect approach to the measure of attachment provides the clinician with readily observable and verifiable behaviours by which to assess just how compromised a child is in the area of attachment.

The IDAS is available for licensed mental health clinicians with a master’s degree in psychology or social work degree free of charge. A copy can be obtained by simply contacting us and providing proof of licensure and educational credentials.

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