There are several factors that put Reactive Attachment Disorder and holidays at odds. All are significant. RAD holidays are tough.
I’m Dreaming of a RAD Christmas
Actually, it’s kind of a nightmare. I’m preaching to the choir, right? RAD holidays are never boring and I don’t mean that in a good way. One of my children who struggles with Reactive Attachment Disorder told my nineteen-year-old son, who has Down syndrome, that she was going to put him on the naughty list. Holy Moly. Real tears. Another of my daughters whose Reactive Attachment Disorder symptoms are always at a peak at this time of year is doing everything she can possibly do to control behaviors enough to keep all of her family privileges through the holiday season. Sometimes she can do it, saving the crash until after the holidays. Other years she melts down before Christmas.
I must give credit where credit is due, though. Over time, she keeps getting better. I’m cautiously optimistic that this might be the year where she gets through the RAD holidays and beyond, without a major incident. Come on… I can hope! Give me that!
During the holidays, we are upping the ante on everything that Reactive Attachment Disorder tries to stop.
There are several factors that put Reactive Attachment Disorder and holidays at odds. All are significant. The first one I’ll talk about is perhaps the most challenging during RAD holidays. The holidays are a time we draw together in communities and families. We do our best to strengthen relationships. We work at repairing damaged ones. We try to increase attachments on all levels. Did you catch that? Yup. During the holidays, we are upping the ante on everything that Reactive Attachment Disorder tries to stop.
When we push harder for happiness, peace and contentment during RAD holidays, we are forcefully shoving our children out of the place where they feel safe.
Our children with Reactive Attachment Disorder are constantly trying to keep us at arm’s length. Their brains developed with safety mechanisms that most of our brains didn’t find necessary. Their brains put in overtime hours trying to figure out how to not invest more in attachment than they can afford to lose. We need to understand that during the course of the rest of the year that our relationships with our children who suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder are as advanced as they can stand. When we push harder for happiness, peace and contentment during RAD holidays, we are forcefully shoving our children out of the place where they feel safe. It is no wonder such huge efforts at improving attachment during the holidays fail.
Anyone who has parented a person with RAD for any length of time has learned that consistency is one of the most important tools we have in our bag. RAD holidays throw a wrench in the chain of consistency. Schedules that school and normal everyday living require are thrown to the wind while we use the holidays. During RAD holidays, consistency that our children have come to expect from us (against their will) changes. If schedules can change, why can’t expectations change? Why can’t rules change? Why can’t discipline change? If consistency, which we live by, is changing… what else might change?
Our children with RAD, who are already hypervigilant, go on high alert during RAD holidays.
Our children are hypervigilant because there was a time in their lives when things could fall apart at any minute. To our children with Reactive Attachment Disorder, the status quo is a good thing. And RAD holidays are anything but consistent when compared with the rest of the year. When environments changed in their pasts, the status quo also changed. And usually the change was not for the better. Our children with RAD, who are already hypervigilant, go on high alert during RAD holidays. Their nerves are frazzled as they try to be aware of surroundings that are far less structured, less consistent, and more rapidly changing than at any other time of the year. Since the children can’t be aware of everything unusual that happens during the holidays, they simply can’t feel safe.
During RAD holidays our children are usually plagued by overstimulation. Overstimulation is often less than compatible with Reactive Attachment Disorder.
During RAD holidays our children are usually plagued by overstimulation. Overstimulation is often less than compatible with Reactive Attachment Disorder. Many of these children have lived with average adrenaline levels that are much higher than the norm as they navigated dangerous situations in their early lives. Some people argue that there is no such thing as adrenaline addiction, but a self-described adrenaline addict wrote an article that seems to describe one of my daughters who suffers from Reactive Attachment disorder. One thing is certain, once my daughter is overstimulated, it is extremely difficult to get her to calm down. She keeps fixating on more and more things that will give her the next adrenaline rush.
RAD holidays provide the anticipation of gifts. It also typically involves an overabundance of stimulants in food and beverage. Most of us allow ourselves and our families a little bit (or significantly) more indulgence in gluttony during the holidays. We have set up systems, routines, schedules and often diets to provide the stability and other factors that help our children the most during the rest of the year. We can’t be surprised when variations from the tried and true provide results that are inferior to those during of the rest of the year.
I’m not suggesting that we ban the holidays or that we don’t allow variations during those times. Holidays are a part of life and they should be a wonderful part of it. They are events that our children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder are going to need to learn to live with and deal with. Even so, if we are consciously thinking about how to minimize inconsistency and overstimulation during the holiday season, the events will seem less and less like RAD holidays and more like memory-creating opportunities that we long to experience and remember.
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