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Reactive Attachment Disorder


What is reactive attachment disorder?

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is condition in which a child is unable to trust. This creates frightening and sometimes violent behaviors. Any child who lives through loss of their primary caretaker, separation, neglect, or multiple caregivers in the first 2 years of their life can suffer from RAD.

How does it occur?

RAD is the result of abuse, neglect, or other parenting problems early in a child's life. Instead of learning to trust, this baby learns that he cannot depend on adults. Instead of trust developing, rage develops. The child thinks life depends on being in control.

What are the symptoms?

A child with reactive attachment disorder may:

  • be very bossy and argumentative
  • be angry and unable to control impulses
  • resist affection from parents
  • be unable to make eye contact except when lying
  • be charming and engaging in order to manipulate
  • steal and lie without feeling guilty
  • destroy property and be fascinated with fire, blood, weapons, and evil
  • be on guard and on the go constantly
  • have speech and language problems
  • try to control everything
  • feel worthless
  • be unable to understand cause and effect
  • be very demanding or clingy
  • refuse to eat, gorge, eat strange things, or hide food

How is it treated?

Attachment therapy may include:

  • Cognitive therapy: This involves helping the child to recognize errors in his or her thinking and to learn healthy ways of thinking about self and others.
  • Psychodrama: This technique takes the child through early life events that are acted out by others in the room. This allows the child to find better solutions for dealing with the trauma of those events.
  • Nurturing and re-parenting: In this technique, adoptive or foster parents hold the child and help the child to learn that they will not abuse the child like other parents have done.

When you are parenting a RAD child, it is easy to doubt yourself. Parenting a child who fights you every step of the way can be very discouraging.

  • Avoid power struggles with your child. Attempt to redirect the child.
  • Don't second guess yourself.
  • Do not listen to the criticism of others who believe that if you love your child enough, RAD will go away.
  • Join a support group.
  • If you're a parent or caregiver of a child with RAD, you may feel frustrated and stressed. Take time for yourself. Find respite care and use it. It can help to see a professional therapist. You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your child.
  • When your child is violent, seek immediate professional help.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2008-12-15
Last reviewed: 2010-06-14

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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