Are you concerned that your adopted child has RAD? Reactive Attachment Disorder is a serious diagnosis that leads to severe behavior issues for children who have had an attachment disruption early in childhood. Read on for signs of attachment issues and what to do if your child receives the diagnosis of RAD.
- Are you an adoptive family or supporting someone who is?
- Do you want to make sure you don’t miss the signs of an attachment disorder?
Maybe you have heard stories about Reactive Attachment Disorder, and you want to make sure your child is bonding to you and doesn’t have attachment issues.
An adopted child will have unique needs and experiences. If you also have biological children, you’ll probably notice that your adopted child behaves differently. That is to be expected, but here is how to know if your child has a serious attachment issue such as RAD.
What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?
RAD is a consistent pattern of emotional withdraw from a caregiver who is attempting to engage, sooth or nurture the child.
RAD occurs when a child has a break in the early bonds of attachment with a primary caregiver before the age of 3 years old. While RAD is considered to be relatively rare, it is much more common in adoption due to the trauma and loss that a child experiences when being separated from their biological mother.
This separation is a loss for any infant. In addition, some children experience abuse and neglect during this early formative period of time, which leads to a lack of trust in caregivers.
Because the relationship with the primary giver sets the stage for all other relationships in life, children with RAD struggle to form meaningful attachments, both as children and into adulthood.
An adopted child may take a long time to adjust to your family and routines. Yet, a child with RAD will exhibit a consistent inability to attach.
In our family, we have two biological children and two adopted children with RAD. While we did foster parent training and attachment classes, we were not prepared for the behaviors that occurred with our children with RAD.
RAD Behaviors are Tricky to Understand
Children with RAD behave in unusual ways. This left us confused and unsure of what to do. Even though we were seasoned parents, we found RAD behaviors tricky to understand.
For example, when we had a birthday party for our child, they hid when guests arrived. We had talked about and planned the party together. Our child seemed thrilled to be having a party and selected who they wanted to invite. Yet once friends showed up, they became withdrawn, rigid, and refused to engaged.
As the party continued, the more their peers tried to talk or play with them, the more distressed my children became. We had to improvise and ask everyone to leave early. While the idea of having a party sounded fun, in reality it was uncomfortable and strained.
Friends and family were critical when we violated social norms and expectations. While people wanted to show love and support as they had with our other children, my children with RAD could not tolerate the affection.
Another example of tricky behavior occurred the first time they scraped their knee. When I saw my child wipe out in the driveway, I came running. My child ran away from me and hid their injury.
A child with RAD may not believe adults can be trusted to care for their injury, so they may hide them. A child with RAD may be fascinated with blood and gore and hide the wound to pick at it or study it. They may also believe they did something wrong and do not trust an adult enough to tell them they are injured.
Understanding behaviors you have never seen before is hard. It can feel very isolating, and it can make you doubt yourself and your parenting ability.
You may need help from a professional to assist in determining what the behavior is saying about the attachment needs of the child.
Most of the literature about attachment disorders focus on the caregiver. For an adopted child, they may have had multiple caregivers in their childhood.
- Do you know their caregiver history?
- Have they spent periods of time in a group home, orphanage or foster care?
While we would love to believe all foster families are nurturing, that simply isn’t the case. If your child was in a non-nurturing foster home, their attachment opportunities may have been limited.
It can be overwhelming to discover the lack of caregiver relationships your child had in their history. While this is hard, it is important information to have and understand. Ask your adoption agency for records and information on your child’s journey to you.
A child with RAD will often have a history of abuse and neglect. Although that is not always the case, it is often a part of their history which contributed to the development of an attachment disorder.
Nurturing a Child with RAD is Incredibly Difficult
Most adoptive parents want to love and nurture their children. They feel compelled to make up for the periods of life their child may have been without loving caregivers.
Yet, if you have a child with RAD the act of nurturing can be very difficult for them to endure. My children became more dysregulated and agitated when shown affection.
It is hard not to take this personally. It is hard to know what to do and how to curb your expectations. A child with RAD needs caring, consistent nurturing, but they can also make it very difficult to provide that care.
Behavior with Strangers
A child with an attachment disorder can behave in abnormal or odd ways around new people.
Many parents of children with RAD report their child as sickly sweet with strangers. Meaning, a child who is often irritable and angry at home may be open and fun-loving when talking with a stranger at the supermarket.
This shift in behavior can also be an indication of an attachment disorder. Strangers are safe because there is no attachment risk, whereas family and friends are viewed as a threat.
Kids with Attachment Issues: Your Next Steps
If you believe your child may have RAD, you need to seek professional help. You can contact your community mental health center and request an evaluation. You can ask your child’s pediatrician for a referral.
Document your concerns and gather information regarding your child’s timeline in foster care. The more you know about their history, the better you will be able to understand tricky behaviors.
Most of all, you need to trust your gut. If something seems off, it means you have to keep digging.
A child with RAD can pose many challenges, but help is available. You don’t have to do this alone and there are people who can help.