Reactive Attachment Disorder: Our Story

I had heard of the terms before, but until I agreed to take my 13-year-old niece in, “Reactive Attachment Disorder” (RAD), sometimes known as “detachment disorder”, or simply “attachment disorder”, held no personal significance to me.

My husband and I took our niece in to live with us in March of 2005. While we knew, and anticipated that there would be significant problems, we had no idea as to the extent of his disability.

Our niece was diagnosed with RAD, shortly after coming to live with us and, despite the fact that this is a disorder that was barely on my screen of consciousness prior to that time, my husband and I have both come to understand it quite well. Making it go away was another matter entirely.

As a counselor for more than 18 years, I had come to appreciate signs and symptoms pointing to specific diagnoses, yet I was astounded to see how closely and how clearly our niece fit the pattern for RAD. I only wish that treating the problem were as easy as diagnosing it appeared to be.

Through books, tapes, classes, and conferences, my husband and I have devoured all of the useful information we can find on attachment disorders and, as we have learned more, we’ve added to this site. If you’ve just begun your own search for ways in which you can help your child, we understand what you are looking for, and believe that this will be a good place to start. We have included links to books that may be helpful and to other useful sites we’ve found on the Internet. We’ve also created a chat-room, and you can find a link to it in our Books and Resources section, along with other support forums on the subject.

Please be careful, however. RAD is a newly recognized disorder -- and as such, some of the available information is confusing and may appear contradictory. Treatments vary from traditional therapy to centers selling a quick fix. While I cannot evaluate the efficacy of each of these claims, my best guess is that the most useful therapy for a kid with RAD will be something in between.

We’ve chosen to remain somewhat anonymous on this site -- not because we’re trying to hide anything, and certainly not because we’re ashamed -- but because we live in a fairly small town, and we don’t want any of our niece’s friends and acquaintances happening upon this site while surfing the web and making the connection between her and her disorder. Although RAD requires that she have little or no privacy within our home, outside of the home it is another matter, and it is clear to me that the reactive attachment label wouldn’t make her already difficult relationships any easier.

After more than three years of attachment therapy and RAD parenting, I am pleased to report that our niece is doing much better, so much so that his therapist recommended that she was no longer in need of regular therapy sessions.

She has learned empathy and responsibility. She has developed reasonable cause and effect thinking, and she has learned to make good choices, none of which implies that she always chooses to make the good choice. Her emotional age has become unstuck and she is developing rapidly. While she still angers easily, she has made great progress in learning to control her anger and even to make reasonable argument in the midst of it. It has been months since she has become violent; and we hope, pray, and even dare to believe that we are beyond that.

For this, I would like to thank Julie, her therapist; Dr. James, who followed his treatment carefully, even meeting with us a couple of times; the authors of the several books from which we have gleaned the answers to many of the problems we faced; my husband, who persevered even when I was weak; and especially my niece, for not giving up on herself, as she threatened to do many times.

For reasons of his privacy, I won’t go into any details but our niece is an older teenager now, and on her own - by her option. While I’d like to be able to say that she’s doing marvelous, the reality is that she still has a ways to go.

Nevertheless, I feel confident that we’ve given her the tools that she needs to take these continuing steps, and pray that she will use them.

Parenting Defiant RAD Teens

3 comments:

  1. I am also raising my niece who has recently been diagnosed with attachment disorder. We are struggling with changing our parenting style to accommodate this new diagnosis. It is a daily - no hourly - struggle. I am glad I found a sit ethat is more than just research and symptoms. That understands what it is really like. We need help.

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  2. We adopted a five year old. Ten years later, we are under siege. He is violent, angry, dishonest, rude and abusive. We so want to remove him from our home, but we feel a tad overwhelmed. We go to court again for him, he was arrested for technological harassment charges. So we go on May 12th. We are hoping to impress upo the judge that our son is too much for us.

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  3. My husband and I appreciate your article very much and would be most grateful if you could name a few books and tapes that were the most helpful to you. Our adopted grandson (3 years old) has been diagnosed with RAD and we want to begin ASAP (early in his life) doing the things that can help him heal.

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