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Part III-10 things you didn’t know about Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)

Part III-10 things you didn’t know about Reactive attachment disorder (RAD)

10 Things you didn’t know about Reactive attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a fairly uncommon mental health disorder, yet very common among children who have spent time in foster care, treatment centers, or have been adopted. It’s easy to empathize with these children, yet most of us don’t really understand them. Many times we have to observe and describe what’s going on with their kids.



Here are 10 things you likely didn’t know about RAD.

#1 A complete rule out of Autism Spectrum Disorder is required before a physician can make an accurate Reactive attachment diagnosis (RAD). Pieces of Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) often overlap with Autism. From a distance, these disorders might look similar because they share a few behavioral symptoms such as violent and aggressive behavior, the inability to demonstrate empathy for others, and the lack of social awareness. Taking a closer look at the two disorders, the way that information and emotions are processed and the intentions behind their behaviors are vastly different.

#2 Reactive attachment disorder is caused by a traumatic event at a very young age. Most often the traumatic event is separation from parents and the process of having inconsistent care givers. Physicians and parents have identified RAD symptoms as early as a child’s 1st birthday.

#3 Approximately 35% of all children who enter foster care will develop reactive attachment symptoms, placing this relationship as one of the largest correlations between a significant life event and a mental health disorder. On the other hand, Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is uncommon among children who live with and are raised by their biological parents.

#4 The myth that children can forget traumatic events – if they happened to them at an early enough age – is just that, a myth. The emotional impact of a traumatic event will most often be internalized and take root in a child’s personality. Even though the event may be forgotten, the emotional burden caused by the event will not be. Thousands of adoptive parents have adopted children at the young age of 1-2 months. It’s impossible for a child that young to remember the adoption process, but a young infant can still develop defense mechanisms. These defenses create distrust in adults, and as a result, the infant will stop seeking comfort from them.

#5 Unlike most other mental health disorders, RAD can be ‘cured’ to the point that behavioral and emotional symptoms are alleviated completely, never to return. RAD can be a temporary mental health disorder until a child is surrounded by a loving and patient family who demonstrate enough stability that a trusting attachment can be formed.

#6 Unlike other mental health disorders which have a prescribed group of medication to treat core symptoms, RAD does not have a medication that treats the core issues of safety, insecurity, abandonment, and mistrust.

#7 The primary therapeutic treatment for reactive attachment is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy technique called Cognitive Restructuring. This is a technique where the child learns to identify the less-than helpful thoughts for what they are – destructive. Those destructive thoughts are then replaced with positive replacements. With cognitive restructuring (therapy) a child learns that thoughts such as “no one loves me” or “I’m lonely” to more positive and helpful statements like “I feel lonely right now.” or “I’m having the thought that no one loves me. What proof do I have that this thought is true?”

#8 Mental health experts claim that family therapy is likely more important to a RAD child than other mental health disorders among children. Due to the lack of trust RAD children tend to have and how hard it is for them to develop attachments, family therapy is invaluable to them.

#9 The foundational issue for RAD kids is not love, but safety. If safety isn’t available, love becomes negotiable. It’s the pursuit of safety that leads RAD kids to be deliberately controlling and strategic, which is something that’s often overlooked. ‘Control’ has a significant meaning in the attachment world and is often mistakenly seen as the problem itself. This leads to a conceptualization problem that parents need to ‘control’ RAD kids and fight them to ‘win the control battle’. Now, while parents mean well, the focus on ‘control’ as the main issue misleads parents and steers them away from actually focusing on the underlying issues. The battle for control is just one of several symptoms, not the problem, and giving them consequences and punishment only furthers their belief that they are unloved and, therefore, unsafe.

#10 Reactive attachment kids often avoid physical touch. Trying to force them into a loving relationship where physical touch is normal, is going to backfire and make matters worse. For a child having issues with control, physically forcing contact with them will more than likely be unwelcome. Although touch is a cornerstone of attachment, reactive attachment kids should be allowed to relax into the process of physical touch. Early on, their response might be to stiffen or pull away from physical touch. After a time, they no longer stiffen when touched and after even more time, they start to reciprocate the touch. With enough patience and time, they will come to appreciate touch and understand that touch creates attachment and they will actually look forward to it. Look for opportunities for physical touch during calmer and relaxed times, instead of forcing a hug on them while they’re upset.

How did you do? Learn anything new? Any parenting lessons that can help you in the future?


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