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Human infants depend on consistent love and care to thrive. When those basic needs are failed persistently through neglect, abuse, or the constant changing of care-givers, Reactive Attachment Disorder can result.

"I have completely emotionally detached, given up all hope of a loving parent-child relationship with him. I look at myself as disaster control rather than a parent now. No respite care is available and no therapists that can help us. I am so, very, tired," were the words of one mother, the words nobody who becomes a parent ever hopes to speak, much less feel.

She described her son as manipulative, someone who can "fool" people into believing he's capable of forming real connections for a while, but also as one utterly devoid of empathy and remorse, and ultimately incapable of forming any true bonds with parents, siblings, grandparents, teachers, or anyone else. She described the run-away incidents, the outbursts of violence, the tendency to physically destroy anything within reach. This mom honestly, she shared, believed that this child hates her. Unfortunately, there were times when she came rather close to reciprocating the feeling.

Enter RAD, or Reactive Attachment Disorder. RAD has recently began entering the public consciousness as a psychiatric disorder affecting a percentage of adopted children, but the reality behind the term is so much more complex than anyone who has never encountered it first-hand could grasp. There are no magical solutions to RAD, but the above mom's story didn't quite end with her description of absolute despair, either.

What Causes RAD?

How many times have you heard it said that children are resilient, and that their ability to bounce back from extreme adverse circumstances far exceeds that of adults? RAD shows that these popular perceptions can be so very erroneous.

In order to thrive, babies and young children require consistent love and care provided by specific individuals — usually their biological parents. Over the course of normal and automatic human development, infants will begin bonding with those caregivers who meet those needs, resulting in an almost unbreakable bond of trust and love. Where a baby's needs are unmet, abuse occurs, they are bounced around from one foster home to the next — coming to see that natural primal relationship between care-giver and child as merely temporary, or cared for (or not, as the case may be) in orphanages, the normal attachment process is disrupted. Reactive Attachment Disorder may develop in such circumstances.

RAD does not only develop in adopted children but also in those with negligent or abusive parents. Most children in these situations do not go on to develop RAD, however, and exact data on its prevalence doesn't exist at this point in time. It is currently unknown why some children who faced extreme neglect, abuse, or disruptions in care-giving develop Reactive Attachment Disorder while others do not. What we do know is that RAD makes for one hell of a journey, both for those affected and their care-givers or parents.

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