Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a brain disorder that is caused when a child is not nurtured in the first few months of his/her life.
It results in them learning to soothe themselves, no longer needing outside comfort, but it also damages the emotional part of their brains.
It becomes nearly impossible for them to form an appropriate emotional attachment to another human being. They either exhibit signs of being OVERLY attached (such as obsessive clinginess or inappropriate touching) or signs of being UNDER attached (such as being indifferent to their mother crying or not seeming to notice when they shove another child down).
Now, don’t get this confused. R.A.D. children can very much LOOK like they attach to certain people.
They can snuggle, use words of affection, and bat their eyelashes at people like nobody’s business.
However, this is not the same as emotional attachment.
R.A.D. kids who have “preferred” people really just have MVR’s. Most valuable resources.
If a R.A.D. child is overly affectionate to you, particularly when that child isn’t a snuggler to his/her own family members, then that child likes that she or he can get something from you.
That might be snacks. That might be physical affection. That might be TV time. It could be a myriad of things.
But don’t mistake it for emotional attachment.
If you died tomorrow, she/he would be sad, but only because the R.A.D. child lost their resource.
If this sounds crass or judgmental, it’s not meant to be. From a biological standpoint, the brain of a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder is physically and chemically different. From a sociological standpoint, study after study has shown that these kids function with a completely different set of rules than most other people.
This isn’t to say they’re broken. It isn’t to say they’re heartless.
It’s just to say they are not motivated by the same things a child is who was nurtured as an infant, therefore, forming appropriate emotional/attachment functions.
Parents who have children with R.A.D. (most often foster or adoptive parents) have to do their jobs completely differently than do other parents. It’s an absolute necessity for the sake of their child and for themselves.
They have to be on the lookout CONSTANTLY for their child using manipulation to get what they want. They have to monitor every bite of food their kids take. They have to watch their cabinets, drawers, and closets to see if their kids are stealing. They have to be careful of other children being alone with their kids. They have to apologize A LOT to other families. They have to pick their kids up early frequently because their child has either had an episode of extreme violence or refusal. They have to cancel trips because they know their child just can’t handle that right now. They have to go on trips without their child because if they always waited for their child to be ready, they’d never leave their home. They have to respond to negative behavior with a robot-like voice because giving any type of emotional reaction to their child spurs the behavior onward. They have to respond to positive behavior with a robot-like voice because being overly bubbly teaches their child how to manipulate people more thoroughly. They have to feel their child reject them every day because they can’t get anything materialistic out of them. They have to hear judgmental comments from their friends about how “cold” they are to their child. They have to accept the fact that their hug will never truly comfort their child. They have to be afraid for their child’s future because they have a significantly higher chance of becoming imprisoned, addicted to drugs, or violently assaulted. They have to watch their child cuddle up to other people every day while denying them so much as a hand-hold.
These parents go through HELL every day, but they can’t let a single drop of emotion cross their face. And they do it all because they love their [adoptive/foster] child so much that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get them to a more successful place in their lives.
If you know a parent who takes care of a child with R.A.D., please don’t see them through a lens of what they’re doing wrong.
See them through a lens of what they’re going through and how hard they’re trying.
Understand that you have absolutely no idea how difficult their life is, and know that you couldn’t begin to imagine how many behavioral parenting books they’ve read.
They really are doing the right thing. They really aren’t the reason their child is emotionally scarred. They really aren’t perpetuating the problem. They’re really not a**holes.
They’re doing the best they can, and all you can do is offer them a hand.