Adopted by the King
Adopted by the King

We love because he first loved us.

Katie King



Let's Define "Special Needs"

Katie King Katie King

This post is part of "Life on the Inside", which is a series that gives a glimpse into our adoptive family's daily life. Please read this series with a discerning attitude that is quick to listen and slow to speak.

Due to the sensitive nature of this series, comments have been disabled. However, you can always email me at [email protected].

The term "special needs" covers a broad range of diagnoses, symptoms, and behaviors. So what do we mean by saying that our kids have special needs?

Our kids have been labeled with a number of psychiatric acronyms, though the diagnoses change with each clinician. One in particular, however, is particularly challenging: Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Do our kids have Reactive Attachment Disorder? As I am not trained in psychiatry, I cannot say for sure. However, every time I have come across this disorder in the adoption literature, I feel as though the author is writing about our family. For what it's worth, we're putting this information out there in an effort to help others understand why PJ and I are perpetually exhausted and why we're orienting our family and career decisions around the needs of our oldest two children. Clinical diagnosis or not, RAD describes our reality.

The following is a list of standard behaviors associated with RAD:1

Of these twenty characteristics, our oldest two children characteristically exhibit eighteen. Eighteen! Can I tell you that it's exhausting and frustrating and seems hopeless more often than not?

Infrequently and in isolation, some of these behaviors are not troubling. I cannot express how many times I've heard, "all kids do that" and "don't worry about it!" (Please, please don't say this to me, ever—even if you think it's true.) What is different and extremely challenging about parenting troubled kids like ours is the incredible number of times that these behaviors occur. These disruptive behaviors are so frequent (dozens of times per day) that we are shocked when our family has a peaceful day. That's not normal! (For the record, those peaceful days come once every few months.)

In addition to the list above, our children have some very difficult past experiences and abuses that can lead to their own inappropriate, dangerous, and damaging behaviors. Our oldest two children must sleep in rooms by themselves, which means that sharing rooms with siblings and having sleepovers are out of the question, hence our current search for a five-bedroom house. Can you begin to grasp the weight of our challenge in which we need to protect other children (including our younger ones) from our older children? If not... just take my word for it and be glad that we look like helicopter parents all the time.

Nowadays, we truly understand that most people aren't going to understand (or agree) that our lives are really, abnormally hard. Our extended family used to have a very difficult time grasping the daily challenges of parenting our kids until we lived in their home for weeks in a row over long summer visits. We are so incredibly thankful for the family and friends that have pressed in hard to get to know our family. Every time I think of these people and what they have sacrificed to love us well, I end up in messy, grateful tears. It's rough, y'all, but our God has not left us alone.

Ok, so, that's where we're at right now... what's the prognosis? From a book on RAD:

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.2

Go read that again. Please.

Whoa. This outlook can leave me breathless, pleading before God for help, wondering how we ever got here. You can probably guess that we said "no thanks" to RAD when we filled out all that paperwork. (We definitely did.) But regardless of the behaviors, the diagnoses, or the outcomes, we are wildly loved by our Savior, Jesus, and we're trusting in His great love to see us through.

What next? As I've mentioned, we're intentionally making choices that allow us to focus on our kids while maintaining our own sanity. We're planning a cross-country move back home to where we have significant family support as well as a number of other resources we don't have right now. We're always evaluating the need for medication and psychiatric help, although our experience thus far has been... lacking.

Above all, we're seeking to love our kids well, spurred on by the boundless love of Christ. We, along with countless others, are praying for our kids on a daily basis, that they may come to know and love Jesus.

  1. Linda J. Rice, Parenting the Difficult Child: A Biblical Perspective on Reactive Attachment Disorder, (SeedSown Press, 2014), Kindle Locations 310-318. 

  2. Ibid., Kindle locations 395-402. 

Katie King

Katie King