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What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

A consistent environment of affection, security and safety is usually required for children to establish healthy attachments and learn to trust others. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can occur when a young child is abused, abandoned or receives grossly negligent care which disrupts the bond between themselves and their primary caregiver. Children who are most at risk for RAD are adopted children, abused children or children who abruptly lose the care of a parent through death, divorce or illness. Although the actions of either parent can technically trigger RAD, it is most often the loss of the mother that affects a young child most.

What Are The Symptoms?

Reactive Attachment Disorder symptoms manifest in two different ways; inhibited and disinhibited.

  1. Individuals with inhibited RAD are usually withdrawn and resist comfort or regular interaction. They are often disengaged during social situations.

  2. Children with disinhibited RAD display inappropriate familiarity and indiscriminate sociability with outside attachment figures.

  3. In both cases, RAD individuals are hesitant to trust others and emotionally keep everyone at arm’s length.

Teens with reactive attachment disorder display the above symptoms while also being prone to issues such as sexual promiscuity, substance abuse, extreme defiance, manipulation and self-harming behaviors. The characterizing lack of empathy in RAD teens can confuse and perplex their well-intentioned parents when a traditional punishment and consequence system yields no results. In the more extreme cases, a full time facility such as a therapeutic boarding school or residential treatment center is needed in order to immerse the troubled teen in an environment that supports and guides them toward effectively managing their disorder.

How Do I Treat Reactive Attachment Disorder?

The first of two initial goals for RAD treatment involves creating a safe, secure and consistent environment. Because trust is a major emotional hang up for RAD kids, keeping things predictable in every instance is important. The second step involves establishing a healthy relationship with the primary caregiver. Teens suffering from RAD do not trust the sincerity of the love and affection that is offered and will often manipulate and sabotage the situation, which can be frustrating and discouraging for caregivers. Counseling is useful for both parents and their child in order to address the issues that are hurting the relationship and blocking healthy attachment.

Teens learn how to practice empathy and attachment while parents are coached on how to create an environment that their teen can respond to. Although there is no cure for RAD, medication is sometimes used to treat the accompanying symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or sleeplessness. Once established, Reactive Attachment Disorder is a permanent condition. While early intervention offers the greatest chance for successful management, it is never too late to help your RAD child begin the road to health and happiness.

Sundance Canyon Academy is a therapeutic boarding school located in northern Utah. We specialize in helping teen boys with RAD overcome their challenges and learn to establish healthy relationships. If you would like a consultation about our program or the needs of your son, please call us at 866-678-2425.

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