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.