RAD: Improvement

Editor’s Note: This is the final in a first person series about Reactive Attachment Disorder. This article contains advice, tips, and suggestions from a parent’s perspective. These do not constitute doctor’s advice or provide a substitute for a formal diagnosis.


Fast forward two months to the start of this story.

I was in my son’s psychologist’s appointment. I was trying not to cry as I told her that I would like Jacob removed from our home after he said that he would like to kill me, and would do so if he could get away with it. The therapist asked me to sit quietly while she asked Jacob what his perfect day would be. His answer is sketched in my memory forever.

“I would wake up whenever I want to, my parents would bring me breakfast in bed, they would carry me into the playroom, they would play whatever I told them to, we would eat whatever I wanted for lunch, they would carry me to the bathroom if I needed it. I would watch whatever I wanted on TV, and they would carry me to bed.”

She nodded and smiled and asked him to sit outside. She looked at me and said the words I had been waiting to hear: “He absolutely has RAD.” I was in disbelief. I had been waiting, wanting, to hear someone validate what I had known for nearly six months. All I could do was cry. I knew what this diagnosis meant. I knew how much work was still ahead. I knew how few resources were available, and how scarce the understanding would be.

It was a bittersweet diagnosis. I wasn’t crazy, or the mean and evil step-mom. However, the few resources I had read said that if you take one year to give 100% of your effort to your RAD child, then for the rest of your life you would have to give 20%. However, if you gave 80% within the first year, you would have to give 80% for the rest of your life. We had already made the choice to keep him out of school. He had missed the first 8 weeks while he was in the hospital, and then we moved in the middle of the school year. Quite frankly, I couldn’t handle another teacher telling me how wonderful he was and how I was too hard on him.

I have learned a lot over the past two years. RAD is a diagnosis that was originally only given to children who were adopted from poverty stricken countries. RAD children were more likely to have been abused and mistreated. Slowly children adopted within the US were given RAD diagnoses. And, now children within their own families are being diagnosed with RAD. Our therapist told us she is seeing many children with cutting tendencies, control issues, anxiety issues, and emotional attachment issues. Military children are suffering at higher rates due to deployments, and stress on the families. Children are being diagnosed with RAD because their primary caregivers are not consistent due to frequent moves, and lack of nearby extended family.

We gave our all for the first year after Jacob’s diagnosis. Huge improvements have happened with his behavior. Lying is at a minimum, he has friends at school, he no longer talks about killing himself or others, and he gives real hugs. Some days are still a struggle, he has been diagnosed with RAD, anxiety, and PTSD. He finds things to worry about, he searches for reasons to be mad at me, and he still struggles to eat consistently. But, if you were to meet him, you would think he is a normal eight year old child. Not this perfect, wonderful child, but normal. Jacob is now a child who displays his emotions appropriately. He is a child who gets upset, a child who is happy, and a child who talks to his peers, not just adults.

Some of the things we have learned from parenting a RAD child are;

  • Take everything you know about parenting and turn it upside down.
  • When your RAD child asks you, then begs you, then cries for a new toy, shirt, meal, you must stick to your original answer. They are not really asking for the new thing, they are QUESTIONING whether or not you are able to BE A PARENT.
  • Stop saying, “I will take away_____” instead say, “YOU have UN-EARNED ____” the child will take ownership of the consequences of their actions instead of blaming you for taking away _____. (This is something that works great for non-RAD children as well).
  • People will stare and judge you when you make your child do a time-in in public and that is ok.
  • A time-out and a time-in are two very different things. A time-OUT is where you separate the child from you and leave them to calm down, alone for a set amount of time. A Time-IN is when you stand with your child, and tell them what a great job they are doing standing quietly for a set amount of time.
  • RAD children HATE positive praise. It is the literal equivalent to beating a non-RAD child. If you praise them they will purposely mess things up just so you say something negative.
  • Negative comments are their praise. They will chip away at you, just so you will tell them how horrible they are, and they will keep chipping until you say it. It could take months, but they will do it.
  • It takes a lot of work as a parent, and the parent-child relationship will take even more work and time to repair.
  • BOTH parents must be fully committed. If not, the child will take out all of their symptoms on the parent not committed. Our son started turning on his father after our relationship had been repaired, and their relationship was still in shambles.
  • Buy this book, and read it, and learn that you are not alone. Know that there are other parents and professionals who can actually help you.
  • Don’t take the opinion of a professional who isn’t willing to listen to you or share what they have learned about your child (they must have your child’s permission, but there are ways to encourage the child to talk to their parents in front of the therapist).

Everyone’s story is different, and your experience with RAD will not be the same as mine. But, it is an important diagnosis that is not talked about enough. It is something that can affect any child. It is important to talk about early childhood attachment, it sets the tone for the child’s life. They learn to trust, eat, sleep, and love within the first six months of their lives when they are completely dependent on an adult for their needs. I am writing this anonymously, but I wish I didn’t have to. I hope someday mental health issues are discussed openly, and parents can learn from each other without the expectation of embarrassment.

For more advice, look for an informative article with more specifics about RAD from a clinical perspective.


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