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The Changing Nature of RAD

Updated on January 30, 2017

One of the most difficult things about raising a child with RAD ( reactive attachment disorder ) is the fact that its manifestations are always changing. Things that are an issue or a major problem this month will be completely different next month, or next year.

For example, a child may develop a penchant for going to the bathroom outside. These potty problems are not at all uncommon. Repeated actions, and talks, to deal with this may go on for several months. Then, just when you have found a way to deal with it, and are feeling satisfied that you have made progress because that particular behavior is not occurring any more, the child may start going to the bathroom in the shower, or spreading feces on the floor. Now, you may say, that is a pretty nasty example, but I assure you, I am not making any of this up. These are actual examples that I have seen happening.

Or a child may mistreat animals. This is also a very common behavior for RAD children. The parents may work on this for a long time, and finally feel they know how to stop it from happening, when suddenly the child starts stealing.

This is very frustrating, and confusing, to parents trying to make some progress. Just when you think you are finally getting the hang of this, and you have this child figured out and can deal with what happens, the rules all change and you are thrown off guard. The parent then feels that they have failed again, and been fooled again.

The parents become very suspicious. There may be a period of six or more months of reprieve, during which, instead of relaxing and taking a needed break from surveillance, the parents sit on the edge of their seat waiting for the next bomb to drop. And it always does. I have seen periods of a year of good behavior, and then comes the next explosion of something completely unexpected. Then I chided myself for not being prepared, for not seeing it coming. But there were no indications of what was coming next.

This is the RAD roller coaster. The child that used to play happily in the yard for hours suddenly begins running away. The child that used to sleep through the night suddenly begins getting up at 1:00am to turn on the lights and play with their toys. The child that was using the toilet consistently begins to wet themselves for no reason. The child that used to pull her baby brother off the bed begins putting things down his throat. The child that used to stay away from strangers suddenly will go anywhere with anyone.

I don't know the clinical reason for this, unless it is connected with the desire to manipulate. Maybe they simply come up with a new idea to try. The result is parents who feel like they never have things under control, and are a failure. But this is typical, and has nothing to do with present bad parenting. It is a result of trauma in early infancy. Even very good parents will feel like they have been fooled, and should have done better.

There is no pat answer of how to stop this from happening, but just being aware of it might help a parent cope.

Believe in the possibility of real improvement. With more advanced methods of counseling and more awareness of RAD we are constantly finding better therapies. But be prepared for many, many setbacks. The road to recovery is a very long one, and to see improvement you may have to look back several years, rather than several months.

Be relentlessly consistent. As much as possible follow a routine, have consistent consequences and rewards, Do not change the rules, do not make exceptions. Once they realize the possibility of an exception they will constantly be trying to make one.

Do not take the lack of progress personally. Something about the nature of RAD wants to tear down the esteem of the parent. The fact is, no person is a perfect parent. All we can do is the best we can, in love, and pray for God to work in the heart of our child.

Have a support system. This is not easy if there are not other people around who understand RAD, but it is possible. I became part of a ladies prayer group that was my life-line for many years. I told them things that happened, about trying to get help and not succeeding, about things doctors, counselors, teachers, friends said that hurt. I told them how I felt. These wonderful ladies put their hands on me and prayed and encouraged me. There are on line forums, support groups, friends. Family is not always the best emotional support system.

If you can do so without endangering others in your family, stick it out. In the long run it will pay off.


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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      that she will take the test again if anything cnhgaes with her. I love knowing its there if we need it. For me being able to see the results of The Quotient Test on paper puts my mind at ease because I know its objective.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Barbara, Thank you so much for sharing these pothos, my eyes were tearing up because of the groom tearing up .sooo nice and your daughter looked beautiful and soo happy!!!! You looked fabulous as always. I really enjoyed looking at the pictures!!!!! Looks like everyone had a great time Thanks again for sharing xoxo

    • songoftruth profile imageAUTHOR

      Elizabeth Jane Robertson 

      9 years ago from Joplin, Missouri

      For more information on RAD please read my other articles. Many prisoners in our system have RAD. A very few learn to cope and lead a productive life. I will get some more information and maybe write another article on what happens in adulthood. The teen years are really rough.

    • RunnerJane33 profile image


      9 years ago

      Wow, I've never heard of RAD before. What happens when these children hit their teen years and then adulthood? Is it a form of autism?


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