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Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

We want children to develop relationships that are meaningful, fulfilling, and nurturing. But for those with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), this is a difficult task as the disorder significantly impacts the development of healthy attachment patterns in individuals.

Establishing healthy relationships for those suffering from RAD is a challenge faced by many families in California. Although RAD is not talked about as much as other developmental disorders, it can have serious implications on social and emotional functioning. In this article, we will explore what RAD is, and how its symptoms manifest themselves.

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a serious and complex mental health disorder that affects children's ability to form strong, healthy attachments with adults. It is marked by significant difficulties in social and emotional development, which can lead to problems in relationships and functioning in everyday life. The condition is thought to be caused by early neglect or severe abuse from the child's caregiver, leaving the child to feel abandoned or disconnected from others.

RAD typically manifests in adopted teens who may have experienced a traumatic history or have been affected by unstable family dynamics during their development. As a result, adopted teens may have difficulty forming emotionally secure attachments with adults and peers. They may also show signs of detachment from their caregivers and struggle to trust other people.

There are more than 55,000 children in foster care in California and about 5,500 children are adopted each year. The unpredictable experiences of adoption can create a sense of insecurity for younger children, which may involve them actively seeking attention or feeling generally uncomfortable with others. These children have difficulty understanding their feelings or recognizing when they need help from others. They may act out impulsively or aggressively, engage in destructive behaviors such as self-harm, or display intrusive behaviors such as constantly seeking attention from adults.

How does RAD manifest in individuals?

The primary symptom of RAD is a persistent failure to initiate or respond to social interactions, particularly with caregivers. Those affected may present with extreme temper tantrums, difficulty connecting with others, and an inability to form meaningful relationships. They may also be rigid and resistant to attempts at being comforted or soothed.

Individuals with RAD often exhibit difficulties in adapting to changes in routine or environment; they may also become easily frustrated when not in control. As they grow older, those afflicted by this disorder may display signs of chronic lying, stealing, and aggression toward other people and even animals.

Developing Healthy Relationships

As parents, it can be difficult to watch our children struggle to build relationships with others. This is especially true for those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or neurological disorder that can make communication and empathy more challenging.

One of the most important things to do is foster an open dialogue with your child about the importance of building strong connections with others. Encourage them to talk about how they feel in different social situations and how they’d like those interactions to progress. Empowering them to become aware and take ownership of their own emotions will help them build self-confidence and identify potential obstacles in forming relationships.

Turn everyday activities into opportunities for practicing skills associated with building relationships such as expressing gratitude, asking questions, listening actively, and conveying sympathy or understanding during conversations. These everyday moments provide great chances for teaching invaluable relationship skills that will stay with your child throughout life.

Therapists and counselors can also assist adoptive parents in understanding the underlying cause of RAD behaviors, allowing them to better equip themselves to support their children positively.


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a condition that can prevent individuals from forming healthy, meaningful relationships in their lives. There are many potential causes for the disorder, but it’s essential that adoptive parents be on the lookout for signs and symptoms.

If a parent suspects that their child may be suffering from RAD, there are several things that can be done to help them cope with the disorder and develop healthy relationships. These include providing consistent and positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors, explaining situations before they happen so children have time to process their emotions and reactions properly, making sure your child has access to social settings where they can practice interacting with other people regularly, and connecting them with mental health professionals who specialize in helping individuals diagnosed with RAD.

Sundance Canyon Academy is designed to help teenage boys and girls, and generally, adopted teens. Through our programs, we provide specialized therapists and staff members ready to nurture your child into healthier behaviors and thought processes that will lead to better relationships.

Help your teen overcome Reactive Attachment Disorder, contact us today.

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