Could My Adopted Child Have Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder

By Guest Blogger Kasey Butcher Santana – Ph.D. Candidate – Miami University Department of English

There is no question that the environment a child grows up in can affect his or her personality and development. As an adoptive parent, you want to give your child a safe and loving environment he or she can thrive in. There isn’t a more loving thing you could do. Sometimes, though, there can be obstacles of the past that you will have to help your child hurdle over and over again to find that happy, loving place. Reactive Attachment Disorder may be one such obstacle.

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is fairly common in adopted children and can stem from time spent living in a group home or orphanage, frequent change of homes, prolonged separation from parents, or from not getting enough attention in the early stages of development. Most often, it develops within the first 36 months of a child’s life. In short, RAD affects a child’s ability to connect with other people in a loving and trusting way, with symptoms ranging from a refusal to ask for help or a lack of desire for comfort to a lack of remorse or empathy. Children with RAD can also exhibit cruelty, manipulation, insomnia, or lying.

Although these symptoms can seem alarming, RAD can be overcome in a loving environment with caregivers who are patiently determined to bond with the child. Once the child is in a stable home, the next step is finding a licensed therapist to provide another space for the child to open up about his or her feelings.

As a parent, there are other steps you can take to help your child bond with you.

  • Explain your feelings to your child. Help him or her understand how they make you feel and how their actions affect other people in both positive and negative ways.
  • Reach out to friends and family. Build a community around the child full of loving, patient people looking to bond. Get help when you are feeling emotionally drained.
  • Keep reaching out. It is understandable that you may feel rejected by your child, but it is important to remember that it isn’t personal. Your continued efforts to connect will help establish trust between you and help diminish the feelings of fear, isolation, or abandonment your child may be struggling with.

You may also be interested in the documentary The Dark Matter of Love, which follows one family as they struggle to bond with three adopted children. The oldest child, Masha grew up in an orphanage in Russia and, although loving and bright, struggles to let anyone help her and resists sharing her feelings at all. With the help of dedicated psychologists, the family learns to help Masha open up, as the parents learn to re-evaluate their own assumptions and struggles as parents. The film illustrates how challenging, but rewarding, parenting through RAD can be.

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