Reactive Attachment Disorder

No Longer Attached at the Hip

To see a child that is not attached from their parents could be a sign of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). It is rare to see a child that is not connected to their parents’ hip. A newborn technically does not know their parents. They have no way of truly communicating or even showing love. All they know to do is eat, sleep, and poop. When their parents or caregiver feeds them, holds them, or shows unconditional love, they respond and unconsciously thrive. The lack of care or negligence may stifle a child’s development and make them unable to attach to parents or caregivers.

What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder is classified as a mental disorder. The care given to a child causes them to attach to you. If you continuously soothe, comfort, and meet their basic needs, they will latch on to you. As a parent, this is not something anyone has to beg you to do. For most parents it just comes naturally. These simple things cause a child to build trust, learn what love is, balance emotions as well as teach them about relationships. The love given to them now even helps their self-image later. It is interesting how a lack of care can even hinder a child’s growth and development. The child is typically more susceptible to illness, and its overall wellness is not good.

By the time a child turns 5, they have developed an emotional attachment to their parents or caregivers. A child now totally trust you and typically hates being away from you. In RAD, the total opposite is true. There are two types of RAD: inhibited and disinhibited. The symptoms of each are totally different. Inhibited RAD is characterized by a child that is withdrawn and does not show much emotion. They seem very cold. They do not even respond to comfort. Disinhibited RAD is characterized by a child who does not seem attached to anyone specifically.  They seem to be picky in who they attach themselves too and show an inappropriate familiarity with certain people. Other symptoms of RAD as a whole includes failure to smile or socialize, and you may notice the child never asks for help.

Causes of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive Attachment Disorder is not considered a common disorder, but it is hard to tell. Children may show these signs and either they are ignored or parents do not seek help. Persistent neglect causes RAD. When a child does not get their emotional needs met, they can become withdrawn. Persistent neglect of a child’s physical needs is another problem that leads to RAD. Every child needs a stable home. When a child is in an ever-changing environment, they cannot appropriately attach to their parents or caregivers. This is a cause commonly seen with foster children.

There are also risk factors besides neglect that may lead to RAD. Parents that are young or inexperienced may have difficulty giving their child the love and care they need. When a child is away from their parents for prolonged periods of time because of maybe career, or illness, they can develop RAD. Mother’s who have postpartum depression have trouble latching on to their child and may even neglect their child initially. Being a part of a large family is not a bad thing, but when each child cannot get the proper love and attention they need, they may develop RAD.  

Diagnosing Reactive Attachment Disorder

A diagnosis is made based on both observable symptoms as well as a physical examination. Doctors keep a record of a child’s developmental milestones. When a child is not reaching their milestones, it can be a sign of RAD. A doctor more than likely will refer you to a child psychologist. A psychologist will do a series of assessments and interviews. They also observe behaviour and attitude. Based on the results, the psychologist or psychiatrist will diagnose the child with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Treating Reactive Attachment Disorder

There is not one specific treatment for RAD, but there are techniques and strategies. One strategy is counseling. Getting regular therapy is a good start. For some parents, parenting classes are helpful. It may help you learn what you’re doing wrong and the things you can do better. Another strategy is paying more attention to your child’s physical and emotional needs. Be kind, encouraging and loving. It is also helpful to create a stable environment, a place they can call home. The sooner you intervene and get help for RAD, the better the outcome.
RAD is not always a result of bad or negligent parenting. Sometimes things happen that you cannot control. You may find yourself in a situation that makes it tough to meet all of your child’s needs. The important thing is to get help. A child can even develop RAD in a stable home. Parenting is a challenging task. As a parent, you try your best to give your child everything they want and need. If you begin to notice RAD symptoms, do not be hard on yourself. Seek medical help. Fixing the problem early can allow your child to have a wonderful and healthy future.


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