Here are 3 helpful resources for managing RAD at school.
Children with attachment disorder have trouble managing their behavior during the school day. If you are working in a school setting with a child with RAD, you may be wondering what support is available. It’s not unusual for a classroom to be in chaos due to a RAD kid’s behaviors.
Parents may feel the school doesn’t understand their child’s needs and doesn’t clearly communicate about their behavior. They may report that school staff undermine the attachment work they are trying to do at home.
Below is important information that parents, teachers, and administrators need to know when working with a child with trauma and attachment insecurities.
While it can be extremely difficult to get children the support they need at school, it is possible. I have lived experience with developing a 504 and IEP plan for my children, so I know it can be done successfully.
Advocate for a supportive plan for the child while at school. Here is direction on how to get started.
- Helpful Resources for Students with RAD
- 1. Focus on School & Parent Communication
- 2. Advocate for a 504 Plan
- 3. Advocate for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)
Helpful Resources for Students with RAD
An estimated 1-2% of children meet diagnostic criteria of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), so it’s not surprising that many educators are unfamiliar with attachment problems. As a caregiver of a child with RAD, you live this life daily. Remember that most educators have never had a student with attachment disorder in their class.
Children with attachment trouble almost always need additional support in school. Because kids with RAD have extreme behavior issues, their school needs include additional supervision, support, time and structure.
A child with RAD can present very differently at home than at school. This is critical for educators to understand. The child they see at school may behave very differently at home. The child could be cooperative and affectionate at school while being defiant and violent at home.
One of my children exhibits his best behavior at school, while the other is most cooperative at home. Both children have a clinical diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder but they present very differently in school situations. So while an educator may have 1-2% of their students diagnosed with RAD, I have a 50% representation of RAD in the children in my home.
There is no one approach that will work for all children with RAD. Use these ideas as a starting point.
A child with RAD is attempting to gain control and safety. The wrong approach can make school and home behaviors worse. This child needs to learn that adults in their life can be trusted, and that it is safe to allow the adults to be in charge.
1. Focus on School & Parent Communication
School staff need to understand that the RAD child’s caregiver has their hands full. If you understand the home struggles, you may begin to understand the limits of what can occur at home.
Educators need to be flexible and open to hearing how their expectations may not be appropriate for a child with RAD. For example, homework may be a battleground that exhausted parents are not willing to face. When you child is peeing in their bedroom, attempting to harm the family cat, or stealing from a sibling, working on math problems is the least of the family’s concerns.
A written plan is essential to provide structure, support and consistency. The school needs to understand the barriers at home and the parents needs to understand what behavioral techniques will be used at school.
Help Staff Understand RAD and Attachment Issues
An article I have found helpful is a Letter to Teachers developed by attachment.org. Providing educators with resources to learn about RAD and even help develop classroom strategies can help support the information you are providing them about your child.
While there are articles and resources for educators, the most informed person on your child’s team is you. Parents, share information about RAD but also how this is seen in the behaviors of your specific child.
One of my children elopes (runs away) when in distress. This response if most commonly referred to as the flight response. This behavior can create a very unsafe situation for my child and for the teacher.
I start each year with a before school phone call or in-person meeting. I explain my child’s history of flight, and discuss the need for a safe place for my child in the classroom, such as an identified area in the room where my child can go when triggered. I offer a weighted blanket to keep at school, if the classroom does not have one available. I talk with my child about the designated area, and we practice going to the safe place BEFORE my child is triggered.
This plan is something I developed after my child broke a teacher’s nose in Kindergarten. While getting to eye level is a great technique for most children, it is not something I would recommend adults do in our case. Direct eye contact can be intimate and therefore threatening to a child with an attachment disorder. It also isn’t safe to hold a posture where you cannot maneuver out of the child’s way in the event that they become violent.
A safe place in the classroom can be part of a classroom plan, 504 plan or IEP. It is important to have the plan in writing and available to any educator who is going to provide supervision in the classroom. It is also essential the child know and practice the plan, so they are more likely to follow it when distressed.
When you are parenting a child with an attachment disorder, communication is tough because you are just doing your best to get through the day. Still, staying on the same team with adults is essential to your child’s well-being.
Here are some ideas on how to communicate with the school:
- Write an introduction letter about your child that can be provided to each new teacher.
- Request a before-school-begins meeting with your child’s teacher.
- Start an email chain with your child’s treatment team and school staff.
- If your child has a case manager, make sure they have an opportunity to observe and communicate with the school.
- Sign a release of information (ROI) for your child’s out of school providers to be able to communicate with school staff.
- Provide documentation of diagnosis, psychological evaluations, and medical care.
If you are an educator working with a child with RAD, there are many ways you can set up communication with the parent, including:
- Request the parent reserves 2 time slots during parent-teacher conferences.
- Request the best way to reach the parent with questions (email, text, etc.).
- Share information about how the child is behaving at school. If you want information about home, you need to be willing to share information about school.
- Listen to the child, but verify before believing. Children with RAD triangulate and manipulate adults in their lives. They see controlling adults as a way to establish security. Remember, children with attachment disorders have learned that adults can not be trusted. What they need is the adults to show they can be trusted to meet the child’s needs, and the child is free to be a child.
2. Advocate for a 504 Plan
What is a 504 plan?
A 504 plan is a plan available to any child with a disability. This can include mental health or physical disabilities. A 504 plan is developed by educators and the parent. The goal of a 504 is to make modifications so as to avoid discrimination of a child with a disability.
Typically any diagnosis (mental health or physical) can qualify a child for a 504 plan.
A 504 plan is not necessary if a child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) because their accommodations should be included in their IEP.
You can begin the process of developing a 504 plan by providing the school with documentation of a diagnosis and a written request to meet to discuss a 504 plan.
While a 504 plan is different than an IEP, they both have federal protections in place to prevent civil rights violations by the school. A 504 plan follows the child from grade to grade or school to school. It should also be updated annually and reflect changes and consent of both the school and the parent.
Does RAD, ADHD or Trauma Qualify a Child for a 504 Plan?
Yes, any documented diagnosis can qualify a child for a 504 plan. You can provide documentation such as a note from a therapist, pediatrician, occupational therapist, or any other provider.
A mental health diagnosis provides the same protections to avoid discrimination as any physical diagnosis.
The school counselor or building principal is another resource to determine what documentation is needed for the school to develop a 504 plan.
Does PTSD Qualify a Child for a 504 Plan?
Yes, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a medical diagnosis. A 504 plan can include accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones, a safe place, use of a weighted lap pad or other tools that can assist a child with PTSD calm their nervous system in the event of a trigger.
Does ADHD Qualify a Child for a 504 Plan?
Yes, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a medical diagnosis. A 504 plan can include accommodations such as testing in a private setting, sensory fidgets, alternative classroom seating or other tools that can assist a child with ADD to focus in the event of overstimulation.
What Accommodations are Available for a 504 Plan for PTSD or Trauma?
Trauma education training is beginning to be provided in schools, but it is not always available to everyone. Even in instances where the teacher is “trauma informed” they do not understand the specific trauma triggers for your child.
Some additional accommodation ideas for 504 include:
- Scheduled breaks
- An agenda that indicates the order of events
- A calming activity the child can use at their desk without interfering in the classroom
- Assigned seating such as being seated in the back of the room with no children behind them
In a 504 plan, there are endless options available to ensure your child is getting the needed support. The school and the parent can work together to provide structure and support for a child to best learn at school.
3. Advocate for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)
What is an IEP?
An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is for children with a disability as defined by law. The IEP is a specific plan to ensure the student is receiving specialized instruction or supportive services.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act sets regulations and requirements for an IEP. A child with specialized instructional needs will require an IEP plan. This plan must be followed by the school and is reviewed annually.
A 504 plan is regulated by the Rehabilitation Act and can provide accommodations for children who do not require specialized instruction.
To begin the process for an IEP, you must submit a written request to the school requesting your student be tested to determine IEP qualifications.
Does RAD Qualify a Child for an IEP?
Perhaps. A child with RAD could qualify under SED (Significant Emotional Disability) if their behaviors impact their ability to learn without specialized instruction.
An IEP is typically centered around the academic work and standards set by peers the same age as the child. If a child is on track with the educational standards, it can be difficult to get an IEP. You may consider a 504 if your child will not qualify for an IEP.
Does PTSD or Trauma Qualify a Child for an IEP?
Perhaps. Typically the school will recommend a 504 plan if the testing indicates the child is on track with peers from an academic standpoint.
An IEP is centered around the idea of specialized instruction, while in-classroom accommodations can be provided through a 504 plan.
What Accommodations are Available for an IEP for Trauma or PTSD?
Trauma can impact development in multiple areas. Some IEP plans may include speech services, occupational therapy, hours in a SPED classroom, or a Paraeducator.
The IEP is designed to address the specialized instructional requirements to ensure the student continues to meet milestones at the rate of their peers.
Most often a documented inability to meet milestones is required for an IEP to be developed.
Communication is key. A 504 or IEP plan is often necessary to ensure a written plan is developed and shared with educators.
Consider advocating for these support services at school to help your child get the care they need at school. Our goal is for your child to be successful whether at home, at school, or in the community.