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Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD): There is Hope . . . (part 1)


For parents with children who have major emotional and behavioral challenges, having their child diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can easily send a shiver up the parents’ spine. What is RAD?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also known as the DSM V)—regarded as the most authoritative diagnostic manual for mental health professionals—describes the symptoms of RAD as follows:

  • The child rarely or minimally seeks comfort when distressed

  • The child rarely or minimally responds to comfort when distressed

  • The child displays limited positive affect

  • The child has episodes of unexplained irritability, sadness, or fearfulness that are evident even during nonthreatening interactions with adult caregivers

  • The child has minimal social and emotional responsiveness to others

This certainly sounds daunting for any parent. Many of us have heard the horror stories of parenting children diagnosed with RAD. But we also need to understand that RAD is not a “death sentence” for the child or the parent. Recently, I came across an intriguing book titled Detached: Surviving Reactive Attachment Disorder, written by Jessie Hogsett. Now married, with three children, and working as an assistant manager of residential treatment group homes, Hogsett shares his gritty, in-the-trenches personal story of surviving with the diagnosis of RAD. He shares in great detail how early years of severe emotional and physical deprivation and abuse set him on a course to develop RAD. Most importantly, he shares important and hopeful information for those who are parenting a child diagnosed with RAD. In the appendix of his book, Hogsett shares nearly 150 practical suggestions for parents. These suggestions come from someone who has personally experienced the effects of and has survived the worst of RAD. Here are some of his suggestions:

  • Many RAD kids are “empty shells” just waiting to be filled. Sometimes you can “fill them up” a little at a time with simple things like telling them they can play with any toy in the room, catch as many fish as they want, eat as many of their favorite snacks as they want, etc. . . .Give a child one of these experiences every week or two. What can they have an unlimited supply of?

  • Reward even the smallest signs of good behavior or progress with an immediate verbal comment like ” Good job!” or “Well done”, and a pat on the back.

  • Use immediate rewards, as most RAD kids can’t see very far into the future. They can only focus on having their immediate needs met.

  • Tell your child that you love him all the time. Even though love alone will never be enough to “cure” RAD, instilling in his mind every day that he is loved, will, over time, let him realize that someone does care for him. Keep telling him this even when you don’t get any response back, and even if it seems he isn’t listening. He probably is.

  • Focus on getting your child to learn to trust. Have him think about the times that you or someone promised him something and followed through with that promise. Make a list of them (the promises) if necessary.

*More to come on this subject in my next blog . . .

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