Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adopted Teens

Many adopted teenagers struggle with trauma related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). According to StatPearls Publishing, an estimated one to two percent of children develop attachment-related issues like reactive attachment disorder (RAD). In many cases, this is caused by trauma or untreated mental health issues resulting from ACEs. If they experience poor mental health symptoms like anxiety and depression, personalized treatment programs like the ones offered at Havenwood Academy can help. We use evidence-based methods to treat adolescents and teens with RAD. 

What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder? 

Some children cannot form healthy or consistent bonds with parental figures during early childhood. Abuse, neglect, abandonment, and other risk factors contribute to developing RAD. Many children with attachment issues have difficulty creating positive relationships with adults and peers. This is especially true of adopted children.

According to MedlinePlus, “Reactive attachment disorder is a problem in which a child is not able to easily form a normal or loving relationship with others.” The symptoms of RAD generally worsen over time if left untreated. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to ensure your child does not experience long-term side effects.

Signs Your Child Might Have RAD 

The signs of RAD vary, and no two children react the same to ACEs. This makes diagnosis challenging in some cases. Symptoms exist along a spectrum, and attachment issues manifest differently depending on your child’s history and current circumstances. A few common signs your child has reactive attachment disorder include: 

  • Not seeking comfort from caregivers and not responding to comfort offered 
  • Obvious discomfort, fear, or anger around caregivers 
  • Unusual irritability or angry outbursts
  • Emotional distance from caregivers and other adults 
  • Appearing sad and rarely smiling

Many children go through periods where they seem more emotional or withdrawn. However, children with RAD rarely display typical interactions with parental figures, and the symptoms persist long-term. Havenwood Academy uses various therapeutic methods to help adopted teens cope with the symptoms of RAD.

Teens with reactive attachment disorder have a higher risk of developing mental health issues. Your adopted child may benefit from being tested for depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders regularly during their teenage years to ensure that any underlying problems get diagnosed and treated early. 

What Causes Reactive Attachment Disorder? 

Reactive attachment disorder can develop from any traumatic childhood experience. However, in most cases, a lack of connection with a caregiver is due to severe neglect, including: 

  • Not having enough food or other necessities 
  • Being left alone for long periods 
  • Not receiving emotional support 
  • Being isolated from other children and adults

In some cases, neglectful caregivers may not have the emotional, mental, or physical capacity to cope with raising a child. Some common causes of parental abuse or neglect include: 

  • Cognitive or mental health issues 
  • Substance misuse 
  • Emotional immaturity
  • Inexperience due to being a teen parent

Children often internalize negative experiences and might blame themselves if their caregiver had difficulty raising them. Some children may avoid forming deep relationships in an attempt to decrease their risk of experiencing future emotional distress. Fortunately, young people have an incredible ability to heal from mental health disorders and trauma. Professional treatment can help your child learn to trust again and build healthy social connections.

How Can You Protect Your Daughter From the Effects of RAD? 

According to Child Maltreatment, “Children diagnosed with RAD appear to demonstrate significantly more behavioral problems and psychosocial problems than children without RAD.” You can protect your child from the long-term side effects of RAD by educating yourself about the condition and getting a mental health specialist involved. A dedicated care team can give your child the support they need to heal and grow. Therapy and other mental health services can give your child the tools they need to maintain overall well-being.

You can do the following to help your child feels safe and supported during and after treatment: 

  • Reassure your child that you love them 
  • Give them a warm and nurturing home environment 
  • Remain consistent and firm in your personal boundaries 
  • Actively listen to your child’s thoughts, ideas, and needs
  • Provide them with a private space where they feel safe and can retreat to when overwhelmed

Recovery and Treatment Options

If your child has problems communicating effectively, setting personal boundaries, or forming healthy social relationships, they may need residential treatment. Residential programs usually involve a combination of psychotherapy and skill development to help them learn to regulate emotions and cope with everyday stressors. 

Standard treatment options for RAD include: 

  • Family therapy combined with individual therapy 
  • Prescription medications to manage symptoms
  • Family therapy 
  • Education for parents, including parenting classes 

The care team at Havenwood Academy can help you create a consistent home environment where your adopted child feels safe. Parental education is essential during the recovery process. We provide family support resources to help parents understand the realities of their child’s condition. The more you know about your child and their experiences, the easier it will be to form a healthy relationship. Our treatment program will give your child the tools they need to form deeper bonds and heal from trauma.  

Adopted teens have an increased risk of developing behavioral and mental health issues that interfere with their social development. You can help protect them by learning to recognize signs of attachment problems like reactive attachment disorder. Early assessment and treatment for mental health issues such as RAD will help them avoid long-term side effects. Your child can overcome problems related to trauma or adverse childhood experiences using evidence-based methods like individual therapy. Havenwood Academy offers personalized treatment programs to address attachment issues and childhood trauma. We treat teen girls with trauma and behavioral issues, many of whom have been adopted. To learn more about the programs and services we offer, call our facility today at (435) 586-2500.


Think Havenwood Might Be For You?

We encourage any visitors considering placing their daughter in treatment to fill out our online assessment as soon as possible. This two minute form will give our admissions team all the information needed to determine if your daughter is a good fit for our program.