Thursday, January 17, 2013

What exactly is RAD? Part 1

I have been writing this post for weeks…I never quite stumble on the right words.   Please show grace should I fail.  It is my goal to bring awareness to this disorder, rather than to whine about the difficulty of it.  It is my opinion that more adoptive/foster parents are dealing with this we realize and it is often poorly understood, both by the parents and those who encounter them….simply stated if when you hear the acronym RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and you do not have to suppress a sharp intake of breath one of two things is true:
You are dealing with it yourself on a regular basis OR
You have no clue….
Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a condition found in children who have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers -- usually their mothers -- before age 5.
Attachment develops when a child is repeatedly soothed, comforted, and cared for, and when the caregiver consistently meets the child's needs. It is through attachment with a loving and protective caregiver that a young child learns to love and trust others, to become aware of others' feelings and needs, to regulate his or her emotions, and to develop healthy relationships and a positive self-image. The absence of emotional warmth during the first few years of life can negatively affect a child's entire future.
When my husband and I began to feel the call to adopt older/special needs children I believed with every fiber of my being that all that I encountered with these children could be overcome with enough hugs and whispered I love yous to fill the world.   I envisioned myself holding these precious souls as they cried and clung to me while I took their hands and together we faced the world, their hope in humanity restored.  I remember staring blankly into the eyes of a foster mother while she explained why her foster daughter could not play with the other kids.  She mentioned “attachment disorder” but it made no sense.  What this hurting child needed was a chance to be a kid, to play and for me to smile at her and hug her and jump at her every whim.   After all she has been denied so much, that is what she needs right? Right?   WRONG!   I am ashamed to say that in my ignorance I judged her, thought her too harsh.  I am reminded of that moment every single time I see your blank stare and watch you judge me.
Please don’t misunderstand me.  I am not saying that children with RAD do not need hugs and kisses.   They do need them, more than most but when you encounter a family with a RAD child who seems so loving, who upon first meeting you jumps right in your lap, plays with your hair and hugs you so sweetly and you hear that precious mom ask the child to get down and remind them of the rules please, please, please do not tell her that what they are doing is okay.   They are not looking for love from you.   They are looking for someone to manipulate, someone to get on “their side”. 
These precious souls have been harmed and traumatized beyond understanding many times and the sad, awful truth is that they learn well from the examples laid before them.  The abused learns with chilling and startling efficiency to abuse.
“If a child is not attached–does not form a loving bond with the mother–he does not develop an attachment to the rest of mankind. The unattached child literally does not have a stake in humanity” (Magid & McKelvey 1988)
I never dreamed that saving these children meant entering into the pit of hell with them.  Their weapons aside from hurtful words and screams are feces, urine, spit and any number of  unpleasant things.  We must lock up anything precious that they could damage and protect our animals from them.  
However if you remember nothing that you read in this post, remember this:  THERE IS HOPE!   With faith, love and understanding of the complex needs of these children they can not only heal but excel.   We are doing all we can to make that happen. 
In part 2 I will discuss some of the things that we are doing and some things that you can do to support anyone you know who is going through this….

Attachment Disorder Symptoms
  • Superficially engaging & charming
  • Lack of eye contact on parents’ terms
  • Indiscriminately affectionate with strangers
  • Not affectionate on parents’ terms (not ‘cuddly’)
  • Destructive to self, others and material things (‘accident prone’)
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Lying about the obvious (‘crazy’ lying)
  • Stealing
  • No impulse controls (frequently acts hyperactive)
  • Learning Lags
  • Lack of cause-and-effect thinking
  • Lack of conscience
  • Abnormal eating patterns
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Preoccupation with fire
  • Preoccupation with blood & gore
  • Persistent nonsense questions & chatter
  • Inappropriately demanding & clingy
  • Abnormal speech patterns
  • Triangulation of adults
  • False allegations of abuse
  • Presumptive entitlement issues
  • Parents appear hostile and angry


  1. I truly believe that G-d has chosen you and your husband for this enormous task of helping these children. He knows of your love and strength through your faith and though times will be difficult, you know he is always with you, guiding and supporting. Time is what you need and the support of mental health and medical professionals and your personal clergy. In the end, these children will grow stronger and healthier because you and your husband have the patience and heart to help and shape them. I wish for G-d' continuing light and guidance as you go forward in this journey.

    1. Thank you Rena! We are blessed to have an amazing support system and the encouragement helps so much!

  2. I too believe there is hope for these children. I became a foster parent to a 4 year old RAD child and "entering the pit of hell" is truly the best description of our early years. Because of the incredible help we received, not only did this child grow up to become a responsible adult, but I also learned a great deal about myself along the way. It wasn't very pretty but we survived and thrived. I adopted her when she was 12 and now she is 23, living on her own & employed. Thanks for spreading the word about RAD.

    1. Thank you so much for commenting. It helps to hear from someone who made it through the trenches!


Thanks for letting me know you're listening! Your comments mean so much!

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