When RAD symptoms are used to diagnosis Reactive Attachment Disorder, it provides a roadmap of where to find treatment and what to do to help our children.
You Can’t Play Kill the Mama!
Psychology has advanced so much over the past few years that we are able to find more and more defined diagnoses. I don’t like to think of these psychological definitions as labels. For me, a diagnosis is a map to be utilized in finding targeted help. That being the case, it is extremely important that we eventually get to the right diagnosis for someone close to us (or even for ourselves), if we are to find the best help we can get. RAD symptoms are shared by many other disorders and situations, so just because someone shows some or all of the RAD symptoms does not mean that they have Reactive Attachment Disorder. Even if they do have RAD, it doesn’t mean there cannot be other conditions that need to be addressed.
Often, children who suffer from Reactive Attachment Disorder also have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (the most widely recognized is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). Conditions that cause Reactive Attachment Disorder to develop might also bring on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. (Some professionals have suggested that Borderline Personality Disorder can be brought on by having Reactive Attachment Disorder as a child.) All of that is just to say that when you see RAD symptoms as you are looking for reasons for serious psychological condition, you need to get good psychological help to have the best chance at helping your loved one. Keep in mind that the most common things that cause Reactive Attachment Disorder to develop are neglect and abuse of a child bringing on legitimate reason for her to distrust a parent, and the frequent change of caregivers during early attachment years (most professionals say before five years of age). If your child has not experienced these conditions, they probably don’t have Reactive Attachment Disorder and you should keep looking for the cause of their difficulties.
What I didn’t realize was that her charm was a survival skill that was one of the RAD symptoms.
When my five-year-old daughter met me in her orphanage, she was one of the most charming people I had ever seen. What I didn’t realize was that her charm was a survival skill that was one of the RAD symptoms. My daughter was grooming me. She was preparing me to be so “taken” with her that I would become her next caregiver. Little did I know; her “charming” personality that disarms almost everyone, would also acquire allies who would deny or defend anything she did to push her new family away. I had no idea that soon after she became my daughter that her mind would classify me as her “future ex-caregiver” and that her RAD symptoms, including charm, would begin preparations for what she viewed as my inevitable replacement.
In the beginning, my daughter always told us what she thought we wanted to hear. We didn’t know that while many adopted children do this, it is also one of the RAD symptoms. Telltale signs were there, though. The truth would come out in her play. Our daughter had a violent imagination. She loved to play with toy animals. That in itself wasn’t a problem. The problem was her favorite game. Whether she was playing with plastic horses or stuffed bears, there was always a big one that was mean to a little one until the little one had taken too much. Then the little one would attack. “Kill the mama! Kill the mama! Kill the mama” my daughter would scream while bashing the larger animal with the smaller. Therapists told my wife not to take it personally it was just one of many RAD symptoms present in our daughter. It was hard not to take it personally.
Using others and viewing them as possessions rather than people, with feelings, was just another one of the RAD symptoms.
While our daughter was charming, expressions of emotion were superficial. Relationships that she did form were shallow and never progressed beyond what her mind decided that her heart could afford to lose. Using others and viewing them as possessions rather than people, with feelings, was just another one of the RAD symptoms that people who have Reactive Attachment Disorder might show.
Often, RAD symptoms involve becoming “stuck” in a developmental stage that the mind recognizes as safe or successful. While most children experience a stage in their development where they mimic animals and animal behaviors, they quickly move on to the next developmental stages. One of our daughters got stuck in that mode. She had observed that humans didn’t take care of their young from her earliest memories and experiences. Because she had observed animals that cared for their young, she decided that was without exception and that animals were the perfect example. Even as a tween, our daughter could be found on her hands and knees pretending to be a cat, dog, horse, or any of many animals.
Other parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder described RAD symptoms like a failure of the child to maintain eye contact. Ours kind of went the other way.
The earliest RAD symptoms that our daughter showed were not as obtuse. It was only in looking back that we realized she had given us signs when we weren’t watching for them. Some of those early RAD symptoms involved a lack of fear, or at least a lack of dependence on adults for a feeling of security. She would walk away to follow something of interest, or even to find something of interest without ever looking back. It was like she didn’t care if we were near, or not. It was as if our daughter had learned that no one could protect her but herself.
Other parents of children with Reactive Attachment Disorder described RAD symptoms like a failure of the child to maintain eye contact. Ours kind of went the other way. Not only would our daughter make eye contact, she would flirt with another adult, charm them, and then give them a hug that would melt their heart. While hugging the other person, she would look over their shoulder and either smirk or glare at us.
When children come from an environment that fosters the development of Reactive Attachment Disorder, and they express RAD symptoms, they need to be evaluated by therapists who specialize in that disorder. The conditions and treatment are so different from most psychological conditions that therapist who do not specialize in Reactive Attachment Disorder often do more harm than good for victims of this complex condition. RAD is not a death sentence. It shouldn’t even be a label. But for us, a diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder provided a roadmap of where to find help and what to do to help our children.
We had no idea how long that journey would be. And the map looked so simple to follow as we first found things that made sense. But a journey with a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder never follows a direct route. Understanding that your trip will be filled with detours and “scenic byways” is key to keeping grounded and focused while raising a child that makes it so difficult because of RAD symptoms. While the progress through Reactive Attachment Disorder was not direct and quick in our family, I have to tell you that achievements were extremely dear to us because we always knew we earned them. And some of the scenic byways were well worth the extra time.
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