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What is so hard about raising a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Updated on March 17, 2012

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."

To read more, see:

Causes of RAD

Introduction to RAD

Tough Love for RAD

The Changing Nature of RAD

Signs of RAD in Infancy

RAD and Teenagers and Adults

RAD and Empathy


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    • songoftruth profile image

      Elizabeth Jane Robertson 4 years ago from Joplin, Missouri

      Usually in cases this severe the only option in residential treatment. This is very hard to find for children and adolescence, however. I had to give up custody of my daughter for three years so that the state could place her in a locked residential treatment center for adolescents. She was there for about a year and and half, and then back in our home with ongoing psychiatric supervision and treatment. I would like to refer your son to our facebook page, "Reactive Attachment Disorder". It is a good place to share experiences and gain support, ideas, and treatment and therapeutic recommendations.

    • profile image

      mm 4 years ago

      My son has gone through hell for the last 5 or more years. His daughter that he adopted has all 10 of the signs of RAD.

      His daughter is now nearly 11 and he is afraid to be in the house alone with her. She was taken away by the state and now the foster parents really want to send her back. Any help

    • profile image

      sad foster mom in tn 4 years ago

      Thank u psycho RAD parent. We foster and have a girl with RAD. Life is horrible and always on alert. We cannot and will not adopt her bc I cannot do that to me or my family. She has a younger sister is the best and sweetest that we would love to adopt to keep her away from her sisters craziness. People also think we are crazy. Prayers for your family!

    • songoftruth profile image

      Elizabeth Jane Robertson 4 years ago from Joplin, Missouri

      My heart goes out to you. I invite you to join my facebook page Reactive Attachment Disorder. We are a group of foster and adoptive parents, professionals, and some RAD survivors sharing experiences, giving each other encouragement and help, sharing resources and prayers for each other. You need a community around you to help you through this. Here is the direct link:

    • profile image

      fostermominpa 4 years ago

      I am a foster parent and have recently accepted a bio brother to two girls I have fostered. He is RAD and my life has been a living hell for the last month. He verbally assaults me every chance he gets to the point of me just walking away and crying. He lies, and manipulates also triangulates staff and the other two children I have in my house. I need help in how to handle this and not give up on him because he has had so much loss in his life. His sisters went through the same trauma but do not have RAD.

      So any advice or help is appreciated.

    • profile image

      Raising a RADical Blessing 5 years ago

      My husband I have road the RAD rollercoaster with our adopted son, who came to us 3 years ago with his own baggage of trauma. We knew of only some of the issues he came to us with, but after a marriage almost broken, family who thinks we're over protective, and surviving day to day with a little "manipulative mastermind"...we've discovered that through with a combination of poor overall processing ability, ADHD, his own bag of trauma and the RAD...each day is a lottery of just what will come next. God has to remind me every day to look with all of my heart to find the good in him and through our family RAD counselor I'm learning how to make myself seek and praise all of his good characteristics over and over daily. It's really nice to hear that as alone many of us RAD parents feel, we truly are not.

    • july18 profile image

      july18 5 years ago

      You are not "Psycho" Rad Parent. You are wounded, your whole family is wounded, and my heart breaks for you. I cannot imagine that you "need" to go through this, but I do know that God is holding your hand every step of the way. I hope and pray for good counseling and respite for you all.

    • mvillecat profile image

      Catherine Dean 5 years ago from Milledgeville, Georgia

      We have had two foster children in our home that were RAD. One was a nightmare. We were the first foster parents to go through the RAD therapy in our group. I tell everyone that it is a very interesting subject if you do not have to live with it in your own home.

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 5 years ago from Ireland

      Is it similar at all to Narcissistic Personality Disorder? This is the first time I have heard of it, so interesting article. Love reading psychology and write a bit about it myself too.

    • songoftruth profile image

      Elizabeth Jane Robertson 6 years ago from Joplin, Missouri

      In response to your story I have started a facebook page for Reactive Attachment Disorder. I encourage you to join us and spread the news so we can support and pray for each other.

    • profile image

      WornDown 6 years ago

      Thank you Psycho RAD Parent!

    • songoftruth profile image

      Elizabeth Jane Robertson 6 years ago from Joplin, Missouri

      My friend, Psyco Rad Parent, my heart really goes out to you. I would really love to speak with you and share experiences. You have really had a load to bear, and people who have never dealt with RAD cannot even imagine what it is like, and the toll it takes on a family. I live in Joplin, MO. Where do you live?

    • profile image

      Psycho RAD Parent 6 years ago

      We have two children with RAD. We fostered a brother and sister for a year and a half and then adopted them 8 years ago, unaware this condition even existed. By the time we were forced to seek professional help, my wife and I and 3 older biological children were emotional messes. We had also adopted a baby girl straight from the hospital. She was a crack baby but is an angel and perfect in every way and is truly our lifeline. We read every book and used every technique on "the two", seeing some results until we discovered that our 10 year-old son with RAD had been methodically and regularly raping our little 4 year-old angel. He was a little mastermind. That was a year ago, and he is neither sorry nor willing to comply with therapy requirements. He is unsafe and has completely criminal thinking. The only thing that keeps the family safe is constant supervision of him, but we're worn-down. All of us see psychologists, 5 of us are on meds, 6 of us see a psychiatrist. We are completely isolated. Our children with RAD charm everyone. They think we're overreacting. I wish I had a nickel for every time someone said my son is a great boy. There is no support. Children's services won't help, so we have to fork-over tens of thousands of dollars to an attorney, and for what? To undo the adoption? He can't stay here, but I love him. He is my son and always will be. It hurts so much to invest so much into a child and be unable to cure him. And he leaves a trail of damaged people, children and adults, behind him. Then there's his sister. Do not under any circumstances knowingly adopt a child with RAD into a family of normal children. For your wife's sake, don't do it! There is a God in heaven, and I know He has a purpose in all of this and that it will all work-out. It's a good thing He's calling the shots and not me because I would never choose this for my family, but it's obviously what we need. Sorry about ranting and raving to strangers and boring you to death. There's just never anyone to talk to. Good thing I can remain anonymous.

    • profile image

      shop crane 7 years ago

      And then way back when, there was that "chick" action flick, Alien, that nobody wanted to see.

      Thanks for pointing out the eye-rolling doublespeak.

    • profile image

      generic viagra 7 years ago

      Wow this is amazing, when many people have some problem with kids, they think that there's some kind of bad behavior, but it's weird if they think that can be a disease or maybe not, who knows.

    • profile image

      Free Windows 7 Themes 7 years ago

      I know loads of people who act like they have this :/

    • Gawth profile image

      Ron Gawthorp 8 years ago from Millboro, Virginia

      good work and a very good article


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