Understanding and Coping with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Are you caring for a child who consistently pushes you away with challenging behavior? Do you take two steps forward only to take four steps back in developing a relationship with her? Does it seem like she is sabotaging her connections with you or others? If so, you may be caring for a child with symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

RAD is a rare mental health diagnosis in the DSM-V that can apply to some children impacted by attachment trauma. Attachment trauma typically results from parental abandonment, divorce, abuse, incarceration, foster care, and adoption (among other experiences). The DSM-V is a diagnostic manual that mental health professionals use to diagnose clients. A proper diagnosis is essential because it allows health care providers to bill insurance companies so clients can receive treatment.

The problem with mental health diagnoses is that no human fits into one category. We all have emotional responses to life’s stressors that are highly personal. Not only that, but RAD is a constellation of behaviors related to attachment trauma, and our reaction to trauma is subjective – meaning that two people can experience the same event yet have a different emotional response to it.

I want to state clearly that I have mixed feelings about diagnoses for children. I’m not too fond of the idea of labeling children because their brains grow and change rapidly. A diagnosis can stay with them long beyond the behaviors have dissolved, coloring them with dysfunction that no longer exists.

On the other hand, an accurate diagnosis can provide relief to caretakers who are exhausted by the emotional and physical manifestations of attachment trauma while also allowing them to receive the treatment they need to function in home and school.

Diagnoses highlight the “this and that” duality of life inside the human experience and all around us. We rarely find one answer to solve any problem in life. Our world is full of conflicting advice, as any parent who has read more than one parenting book will understand. One expert says, let them cry themselves to sleep. The other insists co-sleeping is optimal – which is it? The truth is, the answer is different for every child and every parent. What works for one might not work for the other based on innate temperament, needs for personal space, etc.

I say all of this to communicate to you that while I authored this piece on RAD, I also understand that our experiences and personalities are much more complicated than any diagnosis. Please take what helps, and leave the rest.

If you think your child could have RAD symptoms and you want to understand the causes and strategies for coping with the disorder, please read my article on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which was recently published by ChoosingTherapy.com.

***To learn more about children’s mental health and how you can improve emotional well-being, please join us in my private Facebook group, Emotiminds. It is a virtual classroom for adults interested in increasing the emotional intelligence of the children they love. We would love to have you as a part of our caring community!

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