My Journey to Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder
The last thing you think about when adopting a child is that they might have a complex psychiatric disorder. When my wife and I were getting ready to adopt Bracken almost two decades ago, we had no idea what we were in for when we said yes to adopting our son.
We thought we only had to worry about our son’s day-to-day cares. We would love him and eventually, we would bond and grow to be a happy family. Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go as planned.
We adopted our son, Bracken, when he was six years old. From the beginning, there were signs that things weren’t okay with our child. The way he refused to make eye contact, the way he remained stiff and unresponsive when hugged or touched and, most of all, how he wouldn’t offer any of us the slightest bit of affection. I felt like a failure and concluded that I wasn’t any good at parenting.
As he grew older, we decided to seek professional help. The first pediatricians we saw reassured us that he was fine and was probably just taking longer to adapt to his new life. We were advised to be patient, and he’d come around. He didn’t and after visiting a string of doctors and therapists, our then 8-year-old son was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).
Parenting a Child with RAD
After the diagnosis, I was confused and a bit lost. What was RAD? How does one manage it? How were we going to bring up our son to have a normal life, or as close to normal, with all that he had going on? Back then, there was little information on RAD and few therapists who could help us.
Through trial and error, patience, observation and quite a bit of research over the ensuing years, I learned a few things about raising a child with RAD. This, in turn, has improved my relationship with my son. If you are the parent of a child with RAD, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Have realistic parenting expectations.
RAD kids are different from other children. Since they experienced some trauma (abuse, neglect, etc.) in their early years which affected their ability to form attachments with their family or caregivers, their primary concern is safety. Due to this, they have a harder time forming bonds than other children.
I found that adjusting my expectations and meeting my son at his level, instead of where I wanted him to be, made a tremendous difference.
Patience is essential with RAD children.
In those early years, my son simply didn’t understand the connection between actions and their consequences. It took time to make him see that what he did led to certain outcomes and we had to keep reinforcing this until he got it. I also needed patience to deal with his outbursts, arguments and constant battle for control.
Love and parental common sense aren’t enough.
As a parent of a RAD child, you’ll need to do more than just love your kid. I learned that I needed to be curious about the journey unfolding before us. Also, I needed to be emotionally available and flexible to handle my son’s needs as well as needing to have a healthy sense of humor to deal with it all.
Support and assistance are vital.
Support is a vital asset for parents whose children have behavioral and development issues. Seeking out others going through the same things as we were helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. In addition to joining support groups, we found a therapist who knows about and works specifically with RAD kids, and she’s been of tremendous help.
Raising a RAD kid can be intense, frustrating and tiring but also rewarding. Although it has been a scary journey with lots of surprises, it has had many beautiful moments, and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything.
Reactive attachment disorder — infographic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sundancecanyonacademy.com/reactive-attachment-disorder-infographic/
Jacobson, T. (2016, June 20). The ups and downs of parenting a child with RAD. [Blog post] Retrieved from https://adoption.com/the-ups-and-downs-of-parenting-a-child-with-rad
Natural consequences for RAD children & teens. (2010, October). Retrieved from http://www.reactiveattachment-disorder.com/2010/10/natural-consequences-for-rad-children.html
Jacobson, T. (2018). My Journey to Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 1, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/my-journey-to-understanding-reactive-attachment-disorder/