Reactive attachment disorder (“RAD”) and other attachment problems occur in children who have been unable to consistently connect with a parent or primary caregiver especially during the period between birth and five (5) years of age. This can happen for many reasons:
- No one looks at, talks to, or smiles at a baby leaving the baby to feel alone for extended periods of time
- A child is mistreated or abused
- A child may have its needs met on occasion and neglected on others so that the child does not know what to expect
- A baby or child is moved from one caregiver to another (can be the result of adoption, foster care of the loss of a parent)
- Parents or primary caregivers are otherwise unavailable to the children for extended periods of time in manners that are unpredictable
Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Insecure Attachment
Attachment problems fall on a broad spectrum from mild problems that are relatively easily addressed to RAD which is considered the most serious attachment disorder. It is important to note that the early symptoms of attachment disorders may mimic other issues such as ADHD and autism. If a parent recognizes any of the symptoms of attachment disorders they should contact a mental health care professional as soon as possible.
Common Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder
- An aversion to touch and physical affection. Children with RAD often flinch, laugh or even say “ouch” when touched. Rather than producing positive feelings, touch and affection are perceived as a threat.
- Control issues. Most children suffering from RAD go to great lengths to remain in control and avoid feeling helpless. They are often disobedient, defiant and argumentative.
- Anger problems. Children suffering from RAD often express significant levels of anger either directly by acting out or through passive-aggressive behavior.
- Difficulty showing genuine care and affection. Perhaps the best illustration of this sign is that children with RAD will often show inappropriate levels of affection to strangers or relative strangers while displaying little or no affection towards their parents.
- An underdeveloped conscience. Children with RAD may act like they don’t have a conscience and fail to show guilt, regret or remorse for behaving in inappropriate manner.
Inhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder v. Disinhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder
As children with RAD grow into adolescence it is common that the RAD will manifest itself through either Inhibited RAD or Uninhibited RAD. It is important to understand the two conditions result from RAD because they have substantially differing manifestations:
- Inhibited symptoms of RAD. In inhibited RAD, the child is extremely withdrawn, emotionally detached and resistant to comforting. The child is hyper-aware of what’s going on around him or her, but does not or will not react or respond. He or she may push others away, ignore them or even act out in aggression when others try to get close to them.
- Disinhibited symptoms of RAD. In uninhibited RAD, the child doesn’t seem to prefer his or her parents over other people including complete strangers. The child seeks comfort and attention from virtually anyone, even complete strangers, without distinction. He or she is extremely dependent, acts much younger than his or her age and may appear chronically anxious.
Tips for parenting a child with RAD
Parenting a child with RAD can be exhausting, overwhelming and emotionally trying at times. The following represent a few tips for parents who are parenting a child with RAD:
- Have realistic expectations. Helping a child with RAD will likely be a long and difficult road. Focus on making small steps forward and celebrate every success not matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
- Patience is essential. The process will likely not be as rapid as you may like and you can expect bumps and detours along the way. But by remaining patient and focusing on small improvements you can create an atmosphere of safety for your child.
- Foster a sense of humor and joy. Joy and humor go a long way toward assisting with RAD problems and energizing you and those around you through the process. Find at least a couple of people or activities that help you laugh and feel good.
- Take care of yourself and manage your stress. Reduce other demands on your time and make time for yourself. Rest, good nutrition, exercise and parenting breaks can help you relax and recharge so that you can be a better support to your child.
- Find support and ask for help. Rely on friends and family, community resources and respite care when available. Try to ask before the need for help becomes critical or to the breaking point. There are numerous support groups for parents who have children suffering from RAD and many find it very helpful to be amongst those dealing with the same issues.
- Stay positive and hopeful. Be sensitive to the fact that children pick up on feelings, sometimes children with RAD are hyper-sensitive to such feelings. If they sense you are discouraged, it will likely discourage them as well. When you are feeling discouraged, seek assistance and support from others.
What should a parent do if they are unable to care for a child suffering from RAD?
If your child is suffering from RAD and you are unable to care for the child, seek professional help immediately. Havenwood specializes in helping teenagers who suffer from RAD. We would be happy to consult with you to determine how we can help–CALL NOW.
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