The fascinating thing to me is that the study and understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder has gone far beyond RAD.
The Big Picture is Much Bigger than RAD
He died the summer after our fifth grade school year. It didn’t make me happy to see him go, but I wouldn’t miss the bully. It wasn’t a surprise ending for anyone but his mother. The kid never kept any rules. He showed no loyalty to anyone. He was a thorn in the side of any teacher or administrator. Had he lived any longer it would have been the beginning of what I would have assumed would be a long and distinguished police record. The newspaper described how he and a buddy had broken the rules yet again, to get a hold of one of their fathers’ firearms to “mess around.” One of the rounds went through his head. That was it. He was just a bad kid. Or was he? That child had a tough start with plenty of family problems. As I have learned so much about childhood trauma in the past decade, I have thought about that schoolmate. I wonder if what he had was beyond RAD.
It would take years of studying the narrow understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder before anyone would reach understanding beyond RAD.
The history of understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder is pretty new. In fact, it kind of showed up when adoptive parents from the U.S., who had money, tried to find treatment for their children from Russian and Eastern European orphanages. The parents were surprised with the struggles that their children brought with them. They thought they had adopted them early enough so the kids would move on with no recollection or damage from the past. Love would conquer all. But it didn’t. Of course we now know that was medieval thinking. As psychologists were hired to find out why these children couldn’t seem to create bonds of attachment with their new parents (or anyone else, for that matter) a new study and diagnosis in psychology developed. Eventually it received the name of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Years of studying the narrow conception of Reactive Attachment Disorder would pass before anyone reached understanding beyond RAD.
The fascinating thing to me, though, is that the study and understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder has gone far beyond RAD.
Understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder was not the only medieval thing. As so often happens with early development in psychological fields, treatment for the victims was sometimes medieval. I mean, when holding therapy was pushed to the point where children suffocated, it brings Torquemada to mind. But advancements were made. Though to this day, there is not a sure-cure for Reactive Attachment Disorder, leaders in the field have given us tools that (if consistently followed) can improve the lives and behaviors of anyone who suffers from RAD. Some can even recover completely. The fascinating thing to me, though, is that the study and understanding of Reactive Attachment Disorder has gone far beyond RAD.
As a parent finally learns to cope with a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, it is almost too much to take that the child’s challenges go far beyond RAD.
From the time that Reactive Attachment Disorder first became a diagnosis, psychologists were branching out beyond RAD, to find more and more diagnoses that more specifically described their individual patients. Soon we had what some have referred to as an “alphabet soup” of diagnoses that are often placed on children who come from trauma. We see a child with trailers like PTSD, ODD, ADHD, FASD, and so many others. So many times parents become overwhelmed each time three or four more letters are thrown into the soup describing their child. The more letters that come, the more it feels impossible to help the child. As a parent finally learns to cope with a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder, it is almost too much to take that the child’s challenges go far beyond RAD.
What was originally labeled as Reactive Attachment Disorder (perhaps because it was the most obvious and arguably the most chronic mix of letters in the alphabet soup) was discovered to be synonymous or at least overlapping with so much that was beyond RAD.
Sometimes it helps to go back to the beginning; to start over with a new line of thinking. And it seems like this is what Karyn Purvis and the others at Texas Christian University have done. You will rarely hear them talk in acronyms. They shy away from insisting on specific diagnoses and simply talk about “children from hard places.” You see, the scientists at TCU saw that so many disorders and so many children had lots in common when children had suffered almost any type of trauma during critical times in their brain development. When this happened, parts of their brain developed differently than in cases where very young children experience no trauma. What was originally labeled as Reactive Attachment Disorder (perhaps because it was the most obvious and arguably the most chronic mix of letters in the alphabet soup) was discovered to be synonymous or at least overlapping with so much that was beyond RAD.
You don’t need to be drenched with a bowl of alphabet soup to seek help in dealing with feelings, challenges and pain that go beyond RAD.
As the people at Texas Christian University teach us how to help children from hard places, something is becoming quite clear. What appeared to be isolated problems with children from orphanages in former Soviet States, is much more far reaching. It goes way beyond RAD. A dear friend commented my blog article about the oxymoron of RAD Loyalty, from last week. When she said that she had not been adopted, but many of the challenges that go with Reactive Attachment Disorder seem to fit with her own childhood, I got twenty lines into a reply before realizing that it needed to be a stand-alone article; this article. You don’t need to be adopted, you don’t need to have been abused; you don’t need to have been abandoned to be a child from a hard place. You don’t need to appear as a villain to suffer from effects of quirks in brain development caused by early childhood trauma during those times. You don’t need to be drenched with a bowl of alphabet soup to seek help in dealing with feelings, challenges and pain that go beyond RAD. People get help from the doctor when they have physical ailments and there is no shame in that. When we struggle with less than healthy brain function we simply go to a doctor that is a different kind of specialist. There shouldn’t be any stigma about meeting with a psychologist that understands the relationship between brain development and early trauma.
What started off as studying attachment disorders in children who were adopted, could very well go far beyond RAD and help with some of the most troubling challenges and behaviors in our schools.
There is currently a lawsuit against Compton School District in California. The plaintiffs are trying to force the school district to recognize disorders that originate from trauma as disabilities. The court’s decision will be a landmark in how children from hard places get (or continue to not get) the assistance they need. Furthermore, it could determine whether or not teachers and other school staff need to be trained in how to help these children. What started off as studying attachment disorders in children who were adopted, could very well go far beyond RAD and help with some of the most troubling challenges and behaviors in our schools.
I just know that things might have been far different for a child bound for the sixth grade (as well as his family) if back in those days, society had understood how to help children from hard places. Maybe he wouldn’t have been a bully. Maybe he wouldn’t have found it necessary to challenge every rule that ever existed. If only parents, teachers and others would have said; “Hey, kiddo, what happened to you?” instead of what my schoolmate heard over and over again; “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Often, readers receive as much help from other readers in the comments section as they do from the blog article, itself. Please be generous with your thoughts and experiences in the comments section. There are lots of people who need what you have to share. This is your chance to help them.
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Any methods or principles shared in this article are based on my interpretation of teachings, along with what I have learned from studying resources provided by Dr. Karyn Purvis and/or Texas Christian University. While I believe that this article conforms to principles that they have developed, neither Dr. Purvis nor Texas Christian University have approved or endorsed this article. I, alone take full responsibility for my writings. However, I am not a professional therapist. I am not a licensed social worker. I’m just a dad from a hard place, who likes to share with other parents from hard places. I believe that the best advice I can give you is to read the book The Connected Child and to use that along with the DVDs developed by Texas Christian University for working with Children from Hard Places. “Children from Hard Places” is a term that was coined by Dr. Purvis and it has been used extensively by Texas Christian University in describing their materials for helping children from traumatic histories. As a parent from a hard place, good luck in your journey. Please help me if you find me injured and lying along the path. I promise to do the same for you.