Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a rare but serious condition in which an infant or young child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. Reactive attachment disorder may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring, stable attachments with others are not established.
Many kids who suffer some sort of trauma in life, especially via abuse or neglect, have RAD. I had no understanding of this disorder until we brought E2 into our lives. At first, we didn’t know what to think or what was wrong. When she came into our home, she was seeing a counselor but that counselor didn’t visit with us about her much. Actually, I never met this counselor. After a couple of months of dealing with this, we knew we had to change something in order to try and get help. We were told of another counselor and from day 1, he has been an amazing help. He talked to us about RAD and we probably had that deer in the headlights look. He explained to us what we going on with her and from there, we began trying to gain an understanding of what was going on inside her mind and body. There’s just no way to fully grasp how hard life must be for someone with RAD.
Someone with RAD is a different being all together. They typically are very sweet and affectionate to strangers or people they have very superficial relationships with in life. But in the home, things are much different. There are fits, lies, anger, disobedience toward parents but especially Mom. There’s disrespect for authority in the home, again, especially towards Mom. They are very impulsive and sometimes cannot control themselves when eating or having things just to have things (hoarding). They seem to bossy and have a hard time hearing no or even saying no. They don’t take responsibility for their actions and have little or no conscience. A kid with RAD isn’t easy on the household but they aren’t to be given up on either.
In our home, I’ll be honest, there are times it’s hard to wake up not knowing exactly what you are going to face. We have been told time and time again, you’re good parents but it takes a whole different set of skills to deal with the someone with RAD. It takes determination, a stripping down of who we are to E1 & G and become someone totally different for E2, all the while being the same to all 3. It’s a balance that’s hard. It’s not impossible but some days it seems to be more than impossible. For me, dealing with E2 and her problems is easier than it is for Christy. But after much research and listening, it seems to be I have it much easier than she does when dealing with E2. For some reason, that mother relationship is the hardest for someone with RAD to connect to. I know why and it’s all the natural part of life. When a baby is born, it’s almost always Mom who holds the baby first. She feeds them from her own body. She nurtures, loves, holds and does everything for that baby. But someone with RAD didn’t get that. Maybe they got some of it but typically, they didn’t get much from Mom. It’s hard for them to trust a Mom figure and will do everything they can to push away and test to see when Mom will leave them; like has been done time and time again. Kids with RAD will lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and avoid closeness at all costs. As they begin to feel that attachment in a family unit, they push and they push hard. Break rules just to break rules so maybe they don’t have to attach. Lie, just to lie. Steal from people they get close to just because if they get caught, it might help push that person away. They can be destructive to themselves or their property. They typically can’t be trusted and are defiant and oppositional. They tend to be hollow or empty inside. All of these things are hard, especially for a Mom to have to see and deal with.
Not all RAD kids are the same. Not everything I described is true of our E2. She has those moments of defiance, opposition, lying, nonsense chatter and questions about everything. She acts different toward me than she does with Christy. She digs her heels in when Christy wants something out of her but goes out of her way to please me. She knows those little things she can say that hurt her Mom so bad but enjoys doing it so she doesn’t have to attach to her. At first, I thought it was an unconscious act on her part but after research and visiting with others, it’s not. She’s very deliberate and calculated when to dig in or hurt her Mom. It’s who she is today but hopefully it won’t be her forever.
You may read this and think, man, E2 is a horrible child. No she is not. Actually, she has a tender heart who cares about justice in this world; as long as that justice isn’t holding her accountable by her Mom! She has such a sweet spirit we see come out and when we do, we rejoice in that moment. Her fits aren’t like some kids with RAD and we’ve seen such growth in her and in us. As she grows further in our family, she pushes away but from time to time, she gives in and attempts to attach. Her past was not a good past but it’s still her past. She is forgetting faces and names of those who she was with for her first 8 years. I remember being told when going through our training to become foster parents, that a study had been done about the effects of telling a child they would never see their family again. They said their brain released the same hormone and they same psychological effects took place as to telling an adult they were going to prison for life and would not see their family again. A life sentence of hell in their minds. Sadly, too many of these kids actually do live in a life that is like hell to them. Not nearly as many of them get adopted each year, especially those who are over the age of 6. After the age of 6, the chance of getting adopted goes down drastically each year. Most of these kids end up aging out of the system and are left to be on their own. They don’t have places to turn and many of them never got the security of a family to attach to later in life. It is a life sentence and many of them struggle. There are many successes but without understanding, patience and love from people, it’s hard for many of these kids.
We pray daily for E2 and our family. We pray she has good days and when a bad day is there, we pray to get through it. We pray for every person she comes in contact with daily to be a good influence and that she follows their good behavior. We pray she can bond with girls and boys at school and them accept her for who she is and that she never has to deal with the ill effects of mean kids at school. We pray she continues to let things go that hurt and accept the love from anyone who shows love. We pray for her to be guided by God, not her own desires in life. We pray for a healing that can occur and for a renewed spirit in her life. We are proud of her growth over the past couple of years and we hardly recognize her from the first time she stepped in our house. She may have a long way to go but the distance she has come is amazing! And honestly, don’t we all have a long ways to go to get there where we need to be? We pray for her future and we pray she never leaves us.
We pray for E1 & G as well. We pray for strength, understanding and love when facing each day. We pray for their friends to accept their sister and for them to protect her if they don’t accept her. We pray for them to be the examples of love and grace for E2 to see in our home from someone closer to her age. We pray for a connection to their sister that they have with each other. E1 & G have grown so much over the past 2 years and I am so proud of them. They, especially E1, have given up so much to someone who isn’t appreciative acting, who takes more time and energy from their parents than they were used to and someone who shows them no love, even when they love on her. They are 2 of my rocks in my house. They don’t fully understand why we brought this sister into our family but they say every day they wouldn’t change anything because God wanted her to be with our family. They are amazing; even when they don’t have to be or don’t feel like being amazing.
We also pray for each other as a couple. My prayer is for Christy to gain strength when there is none left. My prayer is for E2 to realize how amazing her mother is and wants to be there for her. I also pray for Christy’s spirit not to be broken by this disorder and to keep moving forward daily. It’s hard on her but I know she has the strength, desire and love to keep going forward. It’s not easy for me to watch Christy struggle but I also don’t fully know her struggle. I can say I understand but I truly don’t. I don’t have a kid, who daily, finds every way to push me away just because of the past. Not just because of the past but because she is also scared of her future. What happens if Mom leaves me? What happens if Mom isn’t there when she said would be there? What happens if Mom’s not there to answer my 1 million questions before noon? What if… You get the point. Anxiety of too many what if’s and yet not enough time to heal the past hurts or gain trust in the new life. Not understanding what love and grace is and certainly not understanding how to accept the love and grace given.
I don’t write this to get sympathy but to possibly help someone one day. Maybe our struggles and successes will encourage someone to reach out for help in dealing with someone with RAD or themselves if they have RAD. I write this to let you know we aren’t great people for adopting a child and truly don’t want recognition or a pat on the back for doing this. We only did what we believed God told us to do and have loved every minute of it; no matter if it’s good or bad. I write this to share a bit of our life because I believe it’s good for each of us to be exposed so we can see just how far all of us have come. I also write this because it’s my release. My release of RAD as a disorder and say what it is; it’s part of our family and we can either learn to deal with it, keep plugging forward and show E2 there’s hope in the future or we can let it rip us apart as a family and as individuals. The latter is not an option. We will keep plugging forward because we know there’s a hope of release from RAD for E2 and each of us and there’s a great chance she will gain an understanding of love and grace that will free her as it has freed us!