Friday, May 22, 2015

RAD: Bad, Sad, Glad

Our oldest two children were formally diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in April. Having been living the reality of this disorder for years, the diagnosis came as a relief. But as the catchy rhyming words in the post title point out, a diagnosis of RAD brings about a number of emotions.


What’s so bad about Reactive Attachment Disorder? I have written about RAD in this post, and I’ll summarize it by including this quote (emphasis added):

According to most experts, "No effective treatments for RAD have yet been developed." Rates of success for treatment centers are hard to find. When asked what success looks like, Chaddock [a group home for RAD children] staff's first response was a young adult who gets arrested for burglary instead of murder. The second response was a youth who can stay in the home long enough to graduate from school, or a decrease in the intensity, duration, and frequency of the old behaviors. Koplewicz states that RAD is "by far the most difficult disorder to treat in all of child and adolescent psychiatry," so psychiatrists look for other disorders that they can treat and try to improve the child by treating them first. RAD behavioral patterns continue into adulthood and many RAD children become criminals.1

So…a lack of effective treatments for the most difficult psychiatric disorder in children. Success is anything other than killing somebody. That’s a difficult diagnosis. Thankfully, our hope is not in psychology or psychiatry.


It is heartbreaking to love children with RAD. They persistently sabotage relationship efforts and what are meant to be pleasant times. To be involved with our family is to be lied to, stolen from, and manipulated by our children. At this point, we’ve had to make a safety plan with our psychiatrist that involves inpatient psychiatric hospitalization when a kid goes out of control. I’ve had to teach Emma what to do if an older sibling is being dangerous, including how to help get her two-year-old brother to safety. Y’all, I’m in tears just typing that. RAD is a collection of behavior that all point towards a broken individual in need of redemption by Jesus. There is joy to be found in each day, for sure, but we are walking through a season of grieving the choices our children continue to make.


So after all the bad and sad…we’re glad to get this diagnosis? YES! We’ve been living with RAD for years. It’s about time!

I remember the first time I heard about RAD. It was in 2012 (post-adoption), while reading Adopting the Hurt Child. (Maybe…we should have been informed a tiny bit earlier?) I read about the disorder and the symptoms associated with it. Ummm…this is our children. This is our life. I showed PJ the chapter, and he agreed. But so what? I pushed it aside. I didn’t want that to be true, and we certainly didn’t have the resources to deal with it. We just needed to keep “giving it time”, and everything would be fine. Right? Wrong. So wrong.

In the following years, our therapists and doctors would toss the term around but not give the diagnosis. I suspect this may be because RAD is such a dreadful label. What parent wants to hear that? Well, the parents who live with it, that’s who. Can I tell you that when I had the care summary in my hand that had a formal diagnosis of RAD, I wanted to hug our psychiatrist. Because now, so many more resources are available to us. When we say, “my child has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder” to any professional involved in helping troubled kids, we immediately have their attention. They take us seriously. It eases their temptation to see our situation as a chaotic house run by clueless and/or awful parents. We qualify for resources that were formerly out of reach. Now, these resources include inpatient psychiatric care and residential treatment (which are horrifically difficult realities), but when we need those resources it is better to have access to them than to not. So in the end…we’re glad.

And as I said earlier, our hope is not in psychology or psychiatry. Nor is our hope in hospitalization, residential treatment, or any other therapy. No, our hope is in Christ alone, who alone has the power to heal our children and bring them into a faithful, loving relationship as children of God. Whatever lies ahead, we will cling to the gospel as our only true hope and point our children to the gospel as their only hope.

1. Linda J. Rice, Parenting the Difficult Child: A Biblical Perspective on Reactive Attachment Disorder, (SeedSown Press, 2014), Kindle Locations 395-402.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Are You Ready?

I recently came across a post that I so wish I would have found back when it was written in 2011, at the beginning of our adoption journey. It asks a lot of tough “are you ready” questions that indeed, we were not ready for.

Now, we are where we are by the grace of God, living out what He ordains for our good and His glory. I don’t know what would have happened if we had been more educated four years ago; I do know that God put these particular kids in our particular family at that particular time, and we trust that He is good. Still, we would have known some tough questions to ask our adoption agency regarding our children, and we would have known that where we are four years later is not unexpected but is a common trajectory for older child adoptions. I think we would have pushed back harder when our agency said “just give it time” and demanded intensive intervention for Vernon in the early stages of adoptive family life.

If you are even considering adopting, read this post linked below from Marty’s Musings. Then read it again. Then pray like crazy, for a long time, and read it again. By all means, ADOPT, but do so in an informed way.

Our family is dealing with very nearly all of the “are you ready” questions presented in the post, and I never expected to do so. It’s crazy exhausting, y’all. It’s hard for us, and it’s hard for our kids.

So now, I leave you with this invaluable post: To Prospective Foster/Adopt Parents

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

How Can I Help?

How can I help? We get this question so often, and it is such a blessing! Today I want to share with you two things dealing with “how to help”: first, a list of ways to help parents dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder (with which, by the way, our oldest two were formally diagnosed in April. More on that later, I hope.)

Ten Ways to Support a RAD Mom, which I found at Marty’s Musings

Also, I wanted to share with you a way that a friend reached out that really blessed me, and I think it’s applicable to any situation in which you are trying to help someone, regardless of the particular circumstance. After I sent a quick “we’re in over our heads/we are probably heading for inpatient treatment” email, she responded with this:

I am reading Focus on the Family looking for "what to say when your friend’s child is in trouble", but like you've said before there's just not much that fits this exact situation. V's behavior is not your fault. All the work, time, energy, prayer, intervention that you have poured into him God sees and knows, and it does improve V's chances of turning his life around, humanly speaking. Trust the God in Ephesians 1, who gives you every spiritual blessing, everything you need to face this and keep parenting B, S, and E. The God who works all things according to the counsel of his will, because we are predestined according to his purpose.

Maybe it’s just me, but something in particular resonated with me from this email. She went searching for wise words to say because the situation is unfamiliar and complicated. And then, she encouraged me with the gospel. In the end, the articles she found didn’t contain magic words that fixed anything, but in taking the time to seek wisdom, she was able to find words that really were encouraging.

How often have I found myself at a loss for words yet wanting to encourage someone in a tragedy? Just last week, I opened my email at 5 a.m. (dumb!) to find funeral arrangements for a fellow church member’s husband who died unexpectedly and news that the adoptive mom who encouraged me last month was now facing a runaway situation of her own. That’s a lot of broken hearts at 5 a.m. I had to walk away from the emails and beg God for the words to say, because I absolutely was at a loss. And ultimately, He pointed me to the gospel in Isaiah 53:

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

In our broken world, I’m guessing that you are familiar with suffering, whether your own or that of someone close to you. When you don’t know what to say, I encourage you to do two things: search for wisdom from knowledgeable sources, and speak the truth of the gospel. May our words of encouragement reflect the God of hope and of peace that surpasses all understanding.