Posted by Casey
There is NO silver bullet and NO easy way to overcome Reactive Attachment Disorder.
Kids exhibiting RAD symptoms have endured deep loss and continue to grieve.
As I understand it, their brains have rewired to compensate. They may experience low levels of emotion or pain. Our daughter was able to turn off her emotions at will, but some of her lack of emotion was not intentional and concerned her. She used to ask me if there was something wrong with her because she didn’t always cry when she thought it would be appropriate (e.g., funerals, pet loss).
Our son’s pain receptors don’t work properly; at the treatment center, our guy broke his hand by punching a wall in a fit of rage. When I confronted the nurse on duty after seeing his hand (swollen three times normal size), she said they’d checked it earlier and assumed he was ok because he went back to activities with no complaint. He played basketball with a broken hand all afternoon.
He had to have an MRI for something else and I mentioned this to the neurologist. She said lack of response to pain is typical of kids who’ve been through trauma.
Kids with RAD need three things:
True belief that you will not abandon them and will never give up on them
Motivation (external or internal; sometimes related to #3)
Definite realization they want to stay with you
Finding ways to help them accept #1 and identifying #2 are equally difficult. When you’ve been abandoned by the people who should have been your rock solid forever protection (bio family), you have a hard time understanding why anyone else would stick with you. When everything that matters has been stripped away, you cease to put value in anything because it will likely be taken as well.
It is impossible to create #3, although this often grows from #1 and #2.
Seven years of CONSISTENT love, positive and negative consequences and promises kept worked for our daughter. About two years ago, we openly discussed the fact that we needed to consider residential treatment for her (because if your kid has cancer and you’re not a doctor, you go to the hospital…we’re not psychiatrists and nothing was working). This shocked her into realizing that she did want to be with us. She asked us to give her time to try to change her behavior, and we gladly agreed.
That same amount of time has not worked for our son…YET. We had the same conversation with him last August, but he had a different reaction. He’s been in residential treatment with wild swings in his behavior and very little progress until last month. The one thing that does motivate him externally is television; he’ll do anything for TV time. Unfortunately, the treatment center hasn’t been the most cooperative with behavior modification; it’s “too difficult” to tie TV time to behavior. We’re looking at moving him elsewhere due to many factors, and as a part of that process our post-adoption social worker (whom he’s never met) needed to visit him. I asked her not to introduce herself as a social worker or as from social services because every time a SW showed up at our house during the foster years, he freaked out.
I was sure he’d assume she was there to take him, because I know he still doesn’t believe we’ll keep him.
The center therapist wasn’t aware (I didn’t realize she was going so soon and didn’t have time to prep him or our son) and introduced her to our son as “from DSS.” Our guy immediately went there.
They’re sending me to a new family?! I knew it!!
The therapist said he morphed to scary-angry on the spot. Once they calmed him down and explained, he relaxed a bit. We called later that day and reinforced that we are not going anywhere and neither is he.
I think the misunderstanding shocked him into realizing that he really DOES want to be with us. Since her visit, he’s had a completely different tone with us, both on the phone and in person. His behavior is suddenly better; he’s like a different kid. We are praying that this will be his turnaround.
RAD is a roller coaster that never fully ends. I never get completely comfortable or expect things to be wonderful forever, because ridiculous expectations = death to healthy relationships. Expect that things may sometimes be rocky, and know that you’ll survive.
To anyone parenting a kid with RAD symptoms: ENJOY the quiet ride while it lasts, and just know that the crazy ups and downs are all related to their pain. As they heal, things will get better. Keep in mind that they’ll likely never be “over” the hurt, but they can move past it in many ways.