Causes of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, occurs when the bonding or attachment process with the primary caregiver is interrupted or absent. The damage is usually done before a child reaches the age of five. Our earliest years as infants and children is when we train our minds to trust others and bond with them. Activities such as cuddling, soothing, feeding and consistent daily interaction all serve to help us learn what we can count on as well as setting the groundwork for future trust. When this doesn't happen during this time period, it can trigger lifelong consequences.

Causes of RAD can be varied. For instance, foster children or adopted children who change caregivers can end up with the disorder. A traumatizing experience, such as losing a mother or being hospitalized or otherwise separated from the parents can also trigger RAD. Children who are persistently neglected or abused develop a deep sense of distrust and fear as the norm and many RAD kids are the result of such situations. By the time RAD is diagnosed, the damage has already been done and unfortunately, it is irreparable. Modern therapy can do much to manage the symptoms of RAD, as can certain medications, but as it is a relatively recently recognized disorder without a specific lab based diagnosis, it is important for parents, caregivers and physicians to recognize the common symptoms.

Some of the most common signs and symptoms of RAD include :

  • Aggression and Anger – This may be expressed through tantrums or by passive aggressive manipulation. Older children with RAD may be able to temporarily hide their anger in socially acceptable situations.
  • Control Issues – Children with RAD will go to great lengths to retain control of any given situation in order to avoid feeling helpless. This often leads to defiance, disobedience and arguments.
  • Aversion to Physical Affection – For children with reactive attachment disorder, touch is perceived as a threat rather than producing positive feelings. It is common for RAD kids to flinch or otherwise avoid being touched. Even direct eye contact can be difficult to maintain.
  • Underdeveloped Conscience – RAD kids often fail to show guilt or remorse after misbehaving. They may act as though they don't have a conscience.
  • Difficulty Showing Affection – Children with reactive attachment disorder may offer little to no affection toward their parents, yet have no problem displaying affection to strangers or acquaintances.

Parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder can be very stressful and frustrating as the positive aspects of the process, such as physical touch and reciprocal affection can act as a buffer for the harder times. However, it is important to remember that a child with RAD is also extremely uncomfortable and stressed, which is what leads to the behavior in the first place. Through various types of therapy, patience and support, it is possible to make life easier for both you and your troubled child.

If your child has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, contact us at Liahona Academy regarding treatment options. We are a full time residential facility and we have multiple programs that help teen boys with RAD learn to recognize and manage their symptoms, while moving in a positive direction. Call us today for a free consultation and take the first step toward healing your relationship with your child. 1-800-675-8101.

Tyler Clark is the Online Outreach Coordinator for Liahona Academy. Liahona Academy is located in Utah and specializes in behavioral management for teen boys. 

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