Tag Archives: reactive attachment disorder


He has stolen again.  Not my money, not any of my possessions and still not my joy.  (I vowed a long time ago to not let that happen.) But he has stolen again, let me explain.

Pizza squares are in the oven and he’s in his room.  I want to share them with him, instead, I am eating them out of vengeance. They were a treat that I thought I would surprise him with, but his behavior today has reduced me to eating them all myself.  Do I want to be this person? Do I want to eat chocolate in the closet and cry in the shower? Do I want to spend every waking hour scheduling appointments to see how we can best serve him? Do I want to rehash the argument we had this morning with every professional therapist we know? Do I want to send him to his room just because the sight of him frustrates me? No, I don’t want to, but I do. He’s in his room.  I’m eating Pizza Squares. The joy that resides in me is deeply buried by the pain and frustration of the morning, but I still know on a head level that it is there.  He can’t steal my joy!  He can, however, steal the dream I had of being the mother I wanted to be.  I will have to resolve to be the best mother I can to a child who rejects my mothering. I will have to be a mother with a much stronger heart.  One who can function with a heart broken in a million pieces…daily.

Today I got an introduction text from a mother who may be in the same shoes as I.  I will be called to encourage her when she thinks she is surprising me with all the things that her daughter does to her.  She will think she is shocking me with her tales of lying, stealing, cheating and hoarding, but I will laugh a bit and tell her it is to be expected.  “These kids do that.” I will tell her that she may never feel the warm, fuzzies that she was hoping to feel.  I will tell her that though her parenting style may never feel “normal,” she will survive it.  And, I will tell her she is not alone.  Just as someone told me in the past.

Oh how I wish I could be the mother I want to be, but he stole that.  I guess I’ll just be the mom who eats all the Pizza Squares and shares the love she has in her heart with other moms who are picking up the pieces of theirs. I may not get to be the mom I want to be to this child, but I can be the friend I want to be to other moms.  And, I will do it all with the true joy that will always remain in the bottom of my heart through faithful prayer.

When Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” I think he had Pizza Squares in mind! (Nehemiah 8:10)

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. –Romans 12:12


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Fear of the Unknown


Fear of the unknown is something well known to the parents of a kid with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  I know something is going to happen, I just don’t know what or when.  Today my son left for school with a look in his eye.  A distant, far away, completely detached look.  My son who usually has an adorable cuteness, beautiful brown eyes and a warm smile, had a blank stare.  My talkative child who would argue any point, didn’t argue and really didn’t speak at all.  He made one sarcastic remark about restoring our relationship and went out the door.

I sent an email to the school saying that I feared that a bad decision was in his future.  Now, I sit with butterflies in my stomach and dread the phone ringing.  Will he actually do something?  How bad will it be?  Or will he be wise enough to seek out a trusted friend or teacher to talk about what’s on his mind?

The fact of parenting a RAD kid is that you will never be the one he will confide in.  You will never have the honor of being the one to teach her right from wrong.  You will never be the one who can give advice or guide him.  Oh, you can try….and you will.  You will spend years and years trying to guide and instruct.  You will spend years and years trying to comfort and nurture.  You will spend years and years trying to welcome her into a deep relationship with you.  But, you will fail.  Oh you may get a glimmer of a bond, but it is probably just superficial.  You may even believe you are making a difference…for a moment.  But you will never make the difference that you hope to.  You will never get out of this relationship what you put into it.  I know, I know, never say, “never.”

OK, so you won’t get the relationship with your child that you desire, but does that mean you get gypped out in the relationship department?  Absolutely not.  You will get to know many people that you would’ve never gotten to meet without your special needs child.  You will develop friendships with strangers that adore your child and bail him out at every chance. You will get to make deep, sincere friendships with other RAD parents. You will get to have deep respect for all those people who take the extra time to make a difference in your child’s life. You will revere coaches, teammates, therapists,classmates, bus drivers and even janitors who are called to bring joy into your child’s day.  Your relationship with your spouse and your other children will deepen as you all work through the pain, grief and bewilderment of having a child with RAD living in your home.

And, ultimately, it is my hope that you have a relationship with God and that it will deepen because of your ultimate reliance on Him to get through a single day.  It is during those times when you see that look, the empty, bone chilling evil look in your child’s eyes that the fear will make you run to the Lord and pray for the best.  You will pray that a smile from the lunch lady or school secretary will change the course of a day.  You will ask God to help your child make a good decision.  You will pray that God will foil any plan that your child may have that will cause him further pain.  You will ask God to comfort the pain your child suffers from his past trauma that now also causes you pain.  You will ask God to comfort you.  Your child’s determination to not have a relationship with you will cause you to deepen your relationship with the One who created you…and created your child…and knows exactly what the day will bring.

The fear of the unknown? There is no “unknown” to fear, even if it may be unknown to you.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.    –Isaiah 41:10



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DSM V – Reactive Attachment Disorder


Do you know about this?  Do you have any idea what it is?  Is there anyone you may know that may have adopted out of foster care who may be suffering in their home?  It’s not just for adoptive and foster families, but this real mental health issue exists and wreaks havoc in homes in your neighborhood.  It would help us Reactive Attachment Disorder Parents out if more people knew about it and made an effort to understand the disorder that is impossible to understand.  We’d like you to try to make sense out of this disorder that makes no sense.  Please read and try to understand…if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask.

The DSM is a Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. It is like the check sheet that you need to have to get a diagnosis and you need to get a diagnosis so that you can get the help and services you need.  AKA – how insurance will pay and how much they will pay depending on diagnosis.

DSM-5 Criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

The DSM-5 gives the following criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder:

A. A consistent pattern of inhibited, emotionally withdrawn behavior toward adult caregivers,(NOTE THE WORD CAREGIVERS – That means to everyone else this child may appear helpful, polite and pretty typical) manifested by both of the following:

  • The child rarely or minimally seeks comfort when distressed.(Is used to taking care of himself, so will do so even if he doesn’t know how.)
  • The child rarely or minimally responds to comfort when distressed.(Doesn’t respond appropriately to any kind loving attention….again….from the caregivers….he’ll let everyone else love on him, just not the ones who love him the most.)

B. A persistent social or emotional disturbance characterized by at least two of the following:

  • Minimal social and emotional responsiveness to others (might care about you, might not.)
  • Limited positive affect (refers to the extent to which an individual subjectively experiences positive moods such as joy, interest, and alertness.  Looks very distant and isn’t really joyful at typical times like birthdays, holidays, etc.)
  • Episodes of unexplained irritability, sadness, or fearfulness that are evident even during nonthreatening interactions with adult caregivers. (Just ticked for no apparent reason and the more you try to help, the more irritable he gets. At home will rage since home is his most threatening environment for him.)

C. The child has experienced a pattern of extremes of insufficient care as evidenced by at least one of the following:

  • Social neglect or deprivation in the form of persistent lack of having basic emotional needs for comfort, stimulation, and affection met by caring adults (Babies need someone to respond to their cries.)
  • Repeated changes of primary caregivers that limit opportunities to form stable attachments (e.g., frequent changes in foster care) Something needs to be done about this to help prevent this disorder!!!!!
  • Rearing in unusual settings that severely limit opportunities to form selective attachments (e.g., institutions with high child to caregiver ratios)

D. The care in Criterion C is presumed to be responsible for the disturbed behavior in Criterion A (e.g., the disturbances in Criterion A began following the lack of adequate care in Criterion C).

E. The criteria are not met for autism spectrum disorder.

F. The disturbance is evident before age 5 years.

G. The child has a developmental age of at least nine months.

Specify if Persistent: The disorder has been present for more than 12 months.

Specify current severity: Reactive Attachment Disorder is specified as severe when a child exhibits all symptoms of the disorder, with each symptom manifesting at relatively high levels.

Thank you for your interest in reading this post to the end and learning a little bit about this very real, very disruptive diagnosis.  

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On a Scale of 1 to 10…


On a scale of 1 to 10 how hard is it to raise a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?  The obvious answer is 1,432 because it is MUCH harder than you think, however each day could be rated differently. No matter the number though, it is always HARD.

There are days that fall into the 1 – 5 category.  Days full of shirts not tucked in, fingernails dirty, teeth not brushed, food spilled, dirty dishes, homework battles, inappropriate remarks, small things broken, lies, arguing and small time defiance.  These are a given.  These are EVERY day.  Every. single. day. Then there are days that a scale of 1 to 10 doesn’t even touch the surface. These include behaviors like fits of rage, breaking banisters, pulling wall paper off of walls, reporting parents to authorities, stealing money, cutting arms for attention, stealing weapons, punching holes in walls, throwing furniture, ripping cabinets off of walls, lighting matches and dropping them inside the house, threatening classmates, shoplifting, pornography at school, etc.  These things don’t happen every day, but they happen more often than most RAD parents let on.  Generally speaking, I would say that parenting a RAD kid is usually a 5-6 with a 10+ thrown in here and there.  It is hard.  Always hard. Chronic.

When a doctor asks you to rate your pain and you have to try to figure out a number you want to just scream, “I don’t know, it’s pain!”  We wonder why we have to rate it at all.  The same is true for why you would even struggle with trying to rate your “hard” as you parent your kid with RAD.  “I don’t know, it’s hard!” It’s for perspective.  It’s to see things a little differently.  Maybe objectively instead of emotionally.

I can tell you that yesterday was a 10+, my house & heart have the scars to show it.  But, today he’s in the shower, he’ll go to school and I have hope that it might be a 2 or 3.  More than likely it will be at least a 6 or 7, but I doubt it will be a 10.  That’s something.  That’s progress. We wake each day with a new scale, yes, there is some leftover “hard” from the day before, but generally, we get to start again.  May there be some relief.  May you have a “good” day….shoot for an under 5!

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The Discomfort of the Calm


Have you been there?  That place of quiet calm where you are just waiting for the other shoe to drop?  I’m there right now and I hesitate to even write about it.  I don’t believe in superstition, but feel like knocking on wood. Do I really want to express that things in my home are going smoothly right now?  My husband and I are getting along, good report cards came home yesterday from school and even my Reactive Attachment Disordered(RAD) son has been relatively calm.

Historically Paul has struggled the most in the month of October.  He has always said that his birthday month just reminds him that he wasn’t born into this family.  That, in turn, brings to his mind all the other unsettling things he ponders regarding his adoption and his early childhood trauma.  Poor Kid.  But this year, October was blessed.  I even re-read my journal for October and found all good comments about Paul’s behavior.  I noticed in my journal that many days he wasn’t even mentioned.  No news is good news regarding my journaling, so when I noticed he was missing, I thought I’d intentionally add the positive comments. It was refreshing to state the truth.  The honest truth and it was good.

For the parents of other RAD kids, I can almost see you rolling your eyes.  “Yeah, good for you, but we are still knee deep in garbage at our house.”  Well, let me tell you that even if we are in the calm right now, I still fear that I am just resting in the eye of a tornado. Years of abuse and unrest don’t disappear over night, do they?  And, I’m talking about OUR abuse, not his. Maybe I feel like the wife of an alcoholic just waiting for her husband to go on that next binge.  I am just not sure, but as welcoming as this time of rest is, it is unsettling.  What are we supposed to do with our hoses if there aren’t any fires to put out?  I think I’ll use mine to water the grass that I hope comes up in the spring.  What do I mean by that?  I think I’ll use this time to prepare for the next phase, whatever that may be.

I know how exhausting dealing with a troubled child is.  It is emotionally and physically draining, so in this quiet, I will rest.  I will not fill every spare second in meetings, reading parenting books or speaking with therapists about how to manage.  I’m taking a break from learning, trying, and strategizing. I’m taking a break from the grueling schedule of trying to figure it all out.  (I never did, by the way, I just tried! There is no figuring it out!)

I’m reading fiction.  Any fictional piece of literature I want.  I have a whole stack of books full of fluff calling my name. Books without indexes, pages of resources, & notes.  Books with pictures of mountains, lilies or tea cups on the front and no action plan in the back.  I will read, enjoy and even forget what it was about.

I’m going to take a walk….without my phone. No one needs me.  I can walk, enjoy the leaves on the tree and the chipmunks on the ground.  I will smile at strangers I may meet and I will not have the creases of stress on my forehead.

I’m going shopping and I’m going to shop for me.  I’m not going to try to find socks without seams, or shirts without tags.  I’m going to buy whatever makes me feel good.

I’m going to waste time on Pinterest. I may check out crafts to make out of pine branches or poems to write in calligraphy.  I am not going to research safes, weighted blankets, interior door locks or security systems.

I’m going to go out to dinner with my husband and talk about….drumroll please…..him.  I wonder what he’s been up to the last decade or so as we battled this mental illness?  I’m going to have a conversation with him that doesn’t involve discussions of IEP’s, Psychiatrists, or ISPT meetings.

I’m going to play Uno with my daughter.I will have extra time since it won’t be spent picking up debris from a melt down.

And, finally, I am going to enjoy my son.  I am going to spend time with him, talk to him and try to see what has created this calm.  Just like I didn’t know what created the chaos, I also probably won’t be able to figure out what caused the calm, but it will be nice to spend some time with him.  During the calm, he is pleasant and even lets his sense of humor break through.

I wonder what would happen if instead of expending all my energy on figuring everything out all the time, I just accepted the storms and accepted the calm.  Would not worrying about things make time in the midst of the storm for me to do all the things I reserve for the calm?  What if I ran into the storm head on just to get to the eye?  What if I found peace in whatever climate his behavior caused?  It’s definitely something I should consider.  On my next shopping trip, I’m going to buy boots, rain gear and an umbrella and I’m going to be rested and ready. Some storm chasers get bored with the calm.  I can’t say I’m one of them, but I know that if I take care of myself now, I’ll weather the next storm much better!

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Reactive Attachment Disorder Stinks!

Sobbing.  Uncontrollable.  Raging.  Screaming. Senseless Words.  Pain so deep you drown.  Daily.

I could say my son suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder, but the truth is that the whole family does.  He is triggered internally, some sort of flashback, some sort of feeling he is uncomfortable with and we all suffer.  I don’t know what today’s trigger was.  He spent the day with the Psychiatrist.  They discussed all the progress he is making and decided to cut back on some medication.  He and his Dad went out to eat and chatted about the Pittsburgh Pirates on the way home.  He went downstairs to play some beloved video games and I asked him to burn the papers (we do that around here.)  He opened the drawer to the matches and saw that I bought him a new lighter.  He ran to me with hugs of thanksgiving and headed out.  He completed his task and then headed to the chicken coop and decided to show the birds the flame.  He didn’t really do anything, he just put the lighter inside the chicken wire and showed them.

I caught him and yelled for him to stop.  He stopped.  And, it went all down hill from there.  He and his Dad were screaming, his sister & he couldn’t be in the same room, he was sent to his room where his throaty screams echo throughout the whole house.  He pounds the walls, pulls the wallpaper off the wall, throws things and screams to us about God.  He texts his friends, threatens to call CYS & berates our efforts to help him figure this out.

Reactive Attachment Disorder wins again.  It has attacked the one who has attachment issues and it has poisoned the whole family for the evening.  I won’t be going to church with my husband, my plans have changed, there’s no fixing this, there’s no consequences.  There’s just pain and bitter disappointment for all.

I’d love to say this doesn’t happen often.  And, actually, yesterday we complimented him on it happening less frequently, but today it has happened.

He doesn’t have reactive attachment disorder anymore….we all do.  We all react.  We all have real pain.  We have all been traumatized!  He has calmed down.  He yells down the stairs in a sweet voice, “Mom?”  I respond as any other hurt and wounded animal would, “Shut Up!”

I’d like to say that I responded differently and to be honest, I have responded to the same situation differently before…about a gazillion times before.  I’ve done everything the professionals tell me to.  I’ve attended the workshops, I’ve been in therapy, I’ve read the books, I’ve responded appropriately, but today I reacted instead of responded.  Maybe this approach will work.  Doubtful.  The hope that has gotten me this far is like sands in an hour glass and I’m about on my last grain of hope.

Being Me, I will turn this all around.  I know that.  I know I will write about flipping the hour glass over and how I will recognize that God renews my hope just like the sands in the glass.  How the sand will all be at the top and slowly trickle to the bottom again.  God does renew me & I know He will again.  But right now I’m just mad.  I’m mad at unanswered prayer.  I’m mad at the people who didn’t take care of him when he was a baby.  I’m mad at the people who think they know what he is like.  I’m mad at the agencies who don’t have a clue.  I’m mad to know that I am one of many hurting parents trying to deal with this diagnosis.  I’m mad at a child welfare system that keeps moving kids around and creates this disorder.

But, mostly, I’m mad about missing church.  Instead of church I’ll sit here and sob.  I’ll ponder the situation and wonder what I’m to learn from this.  I’ll cry out and ask why it has to be like this.  I’ll realize that I will never know.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Stinks!

PS – It appears I’m in good company and not the first person to ponder.  I googled “Angry David Psalms” –

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (Psalm 22:1-6)

I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows. The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him—may your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it. (Psalm 22:22-31)

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