The School-Age Assessment of Attachment is similar to the Attachment Story Stem Completion Task in that it is story based, but involves the child telling stories based upon pictures that raise attachment themes. It is a verbal interview so is only recorded in audio transcript. The School-Age Assessment of Attachment is part of the Dynamic Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment and generates information about a child’s individual pattern of attachment in line with their age and development. As such it enables professionals to gain important information and target work in a very individual, developmentally appropriate and specific way.
Like the other measures of attachment, the School Age Assessment of Attachment can offer a comprehensive understanding of a child’s behaviour and ways of thinking and feeling in his or her close relationships. With the Attachment Story Stem Completion task, if offers a unique window upon a child’s internal world. It can offer valuable assistance to decision making about a child, or inform treatment of a particular child and his or her family.
The assessment consists of seven picture cards that depict a range of situations that children of this age would find threatening. The children are asked to tell a fictional and then real story of what is depicted on the card and this is followed by a series of semi-structured questions “to explore the child’s understanding of his or her feelings, motives, others’ perspectives, processes for achieving resolution of interpersonal differences and alternative solutions to processes” (Crittenden 2007).
The stress gradually increases as the cards are worked through. Elements of danger are introduced into the assessment because attachment behaviour is a “self-protective strategy” and is displayed when an individual feels him or herself to be at physical or emotional risk.
In assessing a child’s attachment we are looking to discover:
An attachment strategy: what we do and how we think when we feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Such strategies and defences, whilst developed in infancy and childhood to elicit nurture and protection from parents and carers, continue to shape relationships into adulthood, as well as be informed by them. Interviews such as the Attachment Story Stem Completion task track how information is distorted by the brain in order to assist an individual in dealing with any perceived dangers. Over time, human beings learn to exaggerate the importance of feelings and thinking that has helped them stay safe, and omit or minimise what has been irrelevant or misleading to them. In this way our ways of thinking and feeling about our close relationships are influenced by the dangers and fears we have experienced. Sometimes, however what may have helped someone stay safe in one situation can mislead and cause problems when they face a situation that is very different, or these strategies might have unintended consequences on other people.
Unresolved traumatic experiences: terrifying experiences or losses that distort a person’s behaviour in major ways without them being aware of it. Being exposed to extreme or ongoing danger or overwhelming loss can interrupt someone’s strategy of staying safe, because how they are thinking and feeling has more to do with the past traumatic event, than it has to do with their current situation. These issues can be generational in their effects, with children being traumatised by their own parents’ responses to the past. They operate like a landmine, hidden from view, but exploding when a parent’s life circumstances lead them to step on the place where it is lying. Uncovering them within an assessment can be like a key, unlocking understanding of aspects of a child or parents’ life which neither professionals nor the parents themselves have understood before.