When we are infants and young children, we form attachments with our parents and caregivers. The type of attachment that we form when we are little can often inform the type of bonds we will have with other people later in life. If a child is in an environment that causes them to have negative experiences with adults in their early years, they are much more likely to form an unstable attachment.
One type of unstable attachment that can develop is called Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). Children who have RAD can face an adulthood of not being able to experience healthy relationships and positive mental health.
Read on to learn more about what RAD is, the signs of reactive attachment disorder, and the types of treatments.
What Is RAD?
Reactive attachment disorder is the most serious attachment issue that a child could form. With this condition, a child cannot establish a healthy attachment to their parent or caregiver. As a result, this can lead to a child having a tough time connecting with others and managing their emotions.
Children who have RAD usually show a lack of trust towards others, low self-worth, a need to be in total control of situations they are in, and a deep fear of getting close to anyone. Due to having an early life that was incredibly disrupted, children with RAD may have difficulty relating to others and are sometimes developmentally delayed.
RAD happens when a child consistently can not connect with their primary caregiver, giving that child repeated feelings of neglect, abandonment, isolation, and powerlessness. Therefore, a child who has reactive attachment disorder will learn that they cannot depend on others and that the world is a dangerous, frightening place.
The reasons that a child has RAD can vary, but some reactive attachment disorder causes can include:
- no one responds or offers comfort to a baby when it is crying
- no looks at, talks to, or interacts with the baby, so it feels alone
- only by acting out does a young child gain attention
- a child or baby is abused or mistreated
- a child’s needs are only sometimes met – meaning the child doesn’t know what to expect
- a parent is not emotionally available because of their own illness such as depression or substance abuse
- a child is moved from one caregiver to another (adoption, foster care)
Reactive Attachment Disorder Symptoms In Children
Symptoms of RAD vary from child to child, however, some common signs of RAD in children are:
- avoiding eye contact and physical touch, especially with caregivers
- displaying inappropriate affection towards strangers but a lack of affection for their primary caregivers
- failure to show emotions such as guilt, regret, and remorse
- expressing anger in a way that is unusual for the child’s age and situation
As a child with reactive attachment disorder grows older, their symptoms will usually fall into one of two patterns:
- Inhibited RAD Symptoms – children with inhibited RAD symptoms are more likely to be withdrawn and emotionally unresponsive. They will most likely not show or seek affection and keep largely to themselves.
- Disinhibited RAD Symptoms – children with disinhibited RAD symptoms are more likely to be overly friendly to strangers and may seek affection from others unsafely. Mostly, these children act younger than their age.
Children who have RAD are at a higher risk for complications later in their childhood and adolescence. These include:
- Developmental delays
- Delays in physical growth
- Emotional problems – depression, anxiety, anger management issues
- Eating disorders
- Drug/alcohol abuse and dependency
- Trouble in school
Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adults
RAD in adults can cause many problems adjusting to adulthood. This means that the lack of support the child got will cause an adult who doesn’t believe in themselves or their ability to live well. As well, RAD causes low self-esteem and a low sense of self-efficacy.
Of course, the biggest part of life that RAD impacts are the relationships that the adult has. An adult who is living with reactive attachment disorder will have difficulty forming relationships, both social and intimate, and will also have difficulty in maintaining these relationships.
Reactive Attachment Disorder Symptoms In Adults
As an adult, symptoms of RAD present differently. Certain behaviors that show reactive attachment disorder in adults include:
- withdrawal from connections
- inability to develop and maintain relationships; both romantically or otherwise
- inability to show affection
- control issues
- anger problems
- sense of distrust
- resistance to giving and receiving love
- inability to fully grasp emotions
- feelings of loneliness and emptiness
- lacking a sense of belonging
To be formally diagnosed with RAD, children must be between the ages of 9 months old and 5 years old. However, it is not uncommon that the diagnosis is first raised in a child who is somewhat older.
The doctor will assess for RAD by asking about the child’s behavior patterns and to see if there has been a withdrawal from primary caregivers. Doctors will also want to rule out any other causes for atypical functioning like Autism Spectrum Disorder.
RAD treatment centers on both repairing and creating emotionally healthy bonds, usually starting within the family. This is to help strengthen relationships between children and their parents or caregivers, which will later help the child develop other healthy relationships. Treatments for RAD are tailored to benefit both the children and the parents and could include:
- Counseling – working with the child and parent in a variety of ways to build skills and reduce problematic behaviors
- Family therapy – working with the primary caregivers and child to develop healthy interactions
- Social Skills Intervention – therapy that teaches the child how to interact more appropriately with other children of the same age in social settings
- Parenting skills classes – sessions that are for the parent to learn more effective ways to managing their child’s behaviors and challenges.
If you have finished reading this and can relate to this information, it may be time to talk to someone about reactive attachment disorder. Maybe you know a child who sounds like this, or possibly you feel you show many of these symptoms, and it’s time to get help for it.
It’s never too late to reach out, contact us today.