What is so hard about raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Causes of RAD
Reactive Attachment Disorder is not genetic. It is caused when an infant less than two years old is unable to attach in a loving, trusting relationship with a primary caregiver. This can happen as a result of several things: abuse, neglect, multiple changing caregivers, or failure to respond to and meet the needs of the infant.
There are some neurological connections in the brain that are not completed until after the baby is born. These are completed when the child is cuddled, caressed and spoken to, and when he cries his needs are attended to. This develops trust. "I am valuable to this person, and he/she will take care of me. The world is a safe place." This is the primary learning task of the first few months of life.
When this does not happen there are physical and emotional results. The connections in the brain are completed in a damaging way. Sometimes they are connected in such a way as to permanently "wire" the brain into a constant "fight or flight" mode. There are higher levels of adrenalin surging through the body the whole time the child is awake, they are in a constant surveillance mode. This can be seen as extreme startle-ability, difficulty going to sleep, and very sound sleep when it finally arrives.
Emotionally the child learns that he is not loved, his needs will not be met by anyone else, he cannot trust anyone else and must look after himself. This interferes with the healthy development of conscience and ability to empathize and love. Discipline and training are based on a trusting relationship with the teacher. If the child does not trust the caregiver/teacher, he has no reason to believe what he is being taught. He will simply do what he feels is in his best interest at any given time. There is no reason to restrain impulses, natural self-restricting thoughts and behaviors do not develop normally.
Relationships with other people are not based on intimacy and caring, but on negotiation and manipulation. "I will give you whatever will get for me the result I want. In this way I will take care of my needs." Rules are followed so as to avoid punishment or negative results, not out of cooperation. When he thinks he can avoid these results, he will do whatever he wants. When caught, there may appear to be repentance. But this is not because of regret for the act, but only for getting caught.
There is no pill or medication to correct this condition. That is why there is so much reluctance to give the RAD diagnosis. But it is very real, and causes a lot of heartache.
However, there is some hope. There is more information available now than even ten years ago, and strategies for coping and compensating are being developed. With years of constant love and training and professional intervention, I have seen our daughter take baby steps to improvement. It is a long and arduous job, and I don't know what the end results will be, but the little improvement is worth it. As it says in Matthew, "With man it is impossible, but with God all things are possible."