A Guide To Parenting A Child With RAD

Are you considering adopting an older child? You'll want to read this guide.

Ryann Sefcik July 30, 2017

Reactive attachment disorder, or RAD, affects so many children who have been in foster care and who were adopted as older children. It is a condition found in children who have been severely neglected and haven’t been able to properly form healthy, loving bonds with any caregiver before the age of five. Their emotional needs are not met and therefore the children do not understand how to properly and appropriately react in many different social situations, including when a parent, or other trusted adult, truly does love them. Children with RAD can exhibit many different symptoms including detaching emotionally, angry, sometimes violent, outbursts, and forming inappropriate relationships with others.

Lyn and Rob are parents to 8 year old Jillian. Jillian was placed in their home in August of 2015 when she was 6 years old. Her adoption was finalized in March of 2016. Jillian was diagnosed with RAD, and her parents are strong advocates for their daughter and for educating people about this condition. They graciously allowed me to ask them some questions and share their story about their amazing family.

Can you share some information about your family and what led you to adoption? Specifically adoption of an older child?
1. Can you share some information about your family and what led you to adoption? Specifically adoption of an older child?

My husband had two grown children from his previous marriage. We talked at length before we were married, and we really wanted to have a child together. My husband had already had a vasectomy, so having a baby would require surgery for him. After much prayer, we really felt called to adopt instead, to give a child a loving home, and specifically, an older child. With our research, we saw how many children were in the foster care system, waiting for homes. The older they get, the less likely their chance of being adopted gets. It really broke our hearts. I’m not sure how to put it into words, it’s really just what we feel God put on our hearts.

Were you aware of RAD before adopting? Did you know any children who were living with it?
2. Were you aware of RAD before adopting? Did you know any children who were living with it?

We had heard of RAD but it wasn’t until the last few weeks before the adoption was finalized that we did a lot of research and realized that Jillian seemed to meet almost all of the criteria to be diagnosed with it. It wasn’t until a few months after the adoption that she had an official diagnosis of RAD, and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) We did not know any children living with it. Even with the number of people within our church that have adopted, Jillian seems to be the only one that has it.

What resources were you given once your daughter was placed in your home to help her cope and help you as parents?
3. What resources were you given once your daughter was placed in your home to help her cope and help you as parents?

Honestly, we weren’t given a whole lot of resources. We were given the info of her current therapist and psychiatrist. We also were provided the contact information of Jillian’s foster mom. She was able to provide some insight and backstory on Jillian’s history. Once we kind of self-diagnosed her with RAD, we were provided with some DVDs that discussed the TBRI method of working thru RAD. (Trust based relational intervention, created by Karyn Purvis and the Texas Christian University). But unfortunately, until we started pushing back, it was never told to us that she had RAD, or to what extent RAD can affect a child and the family. Since the adoption has finalized, we have been able to gain additional resources, including PASSS funds (post adoption special services subsidy) thru the county to pay for therapeutic services. She currently is being seen at Adoption and Attachment Therapy Partners, who only treats children who have been thru adoption and have RAD. Therapy now includes family therapy (we are involved in every session) and neurofeedback (leads are placed on her head and while she watches a movie, it helps to retrain the brain).

What does a typical day look like as a parent of a child with RAD?
4. What does a typical day look like as a parent of a child with RAD?

There is no such thing as a typical day! For Jillian, everything revolves around control. Jillian feels the need to be in charge of every situation--she lives in “fight, flight, freeze” mode every day, so it’s self-protection even though she is no longer in danger. Things that are usual for her are waking up several times in the middle of the night, trouble falling asleep, waking up extremely early. Anger is the most prevalent emotion right now, and since it was the mother figure that really let her down, her anger is often directed toward me. When Jillian does not get her way, she often erupts into a rage--yelling, throwing things, hitting herself and hitting others. She is hyper vigilant--appears to “bounce off the walls” to avoid thinking, and to try to stay awake, so she has very little focus on any task. Learning is difficult for her, because she is constantly scanning her environment for potential threats. Binge eating is often common with her.

What is one of your proudest parenting moments?
5. What is one of your proudest parenting moments?

Proud parenting moments are when I see Jillian’s heart really shine thru. One of her top concerns is homeless people. She is always trying to help them, give them blessing bags, giving them her money. She even participated with our church to make and deliver blessing bags with my husband. She also will go out of her way when a friend is sad to comfort them, cheer them up. Despite her traumatic beginning, her heart is so full for others.

What are some of your daily struggles raising your daughter?
6. What are some of your daily struggles raising your daughter?

Daily struggles--Jillian toggles back and forth with good and bad cycles. On days in good cycles, she’s compliant, agreeable, helpful, with limited struggles. On the bad cycles, she is combative and defiant and easily irritated. A simple request, such as please make your bed might be met with a two hour meltdown with her room being torn apart, walls banged, and her hitting herself. We have been taught to only choose battles that we know we can win. We choose not to battle food, sleep, and hygiene issues. Bedtime is always a struggle. Deep down, I think she is afraid to sleep because that means she has to give up control. So she will try and stay up as long as she can.

Tell me some of the things that make your daughter amazing.
7. Tell me some of the things that make your daughter amazing.

Jillian is absolutely amazing! She is very giving to younger kids, trying to protect them, help them, play with them, teach them. Like I said before, she has a heart for the homeless. She is a great caretaker. When I am sick, she will bring me my drink, my medicine, anything I need, and of course lend me a stuffed animal or two! Last year, when my stepdad was very sick, before he went into the hospital, she would hold his hand and help him walk around. Also she has a fantastic memory. She can remember song lyrics after hearing the song once, or tell me how to get somewhere that we have only driven to once.

How are you helping her to cope with RAD as she grows up and throughout her adult life?
9. How are you helping her to cope with RAD as she grows up and throughout her adult life?

We have her in therapy to deal with the loss of her birth family. Jillian has never fully processed her past traumas, which were severe. She has to acknowledge what has happened to her in order to move forward. We are working to build the foundations that were not developed properly when she was an infant/toddler. Emotionally, she is much younger than 8 years old – she is more like 3 or 4. We work hard to meet her where she is, instead of having expectations that are not reasonable for her at this point. Jillian does not have cause and effect thinking, so we use natural consequences to help her understand that something will happen based on the choices she makes. She has also started participating in neurofeedback therapy. Leads are placed on her head while she watches a movie for about 45 minutes. It is supposed to help slow down the back of her brain, the hypervigilance, and start causing the front of her brain, the logic and reasoning, to start working more.

What advice would you give to hopeful adoptive parents considering adopting an older child who might have RAD?
10. What advice would you give to hopeful adoptive parents considering adopting an older child who might have RAD?

To hopeful adoptive parents who are considering adopting an older child: it isn’t a matter of if the child will have RAD….they will have it. It’s more a matter of to what degree. I would say while you are waiting for your child to be placed with you, learn about RAD. Read about it so you know what to expect. Try to find other parents dealing with RAD to get perspective and support. And when your child does come to you, keep in mind the first few months are called the honeymoon phase for a reason. Eventually, the newness will wear off, they will realize they aren’t going anywhere, and the behaviors will start to come out. Remember you are not a regular parent, you are a therapeutic parent. People around you won’t get it, and you learn to be okay with that. Plan time to take care of yourself (whether its exercise, reading a book, going to get your hair done, etc.) Keep your marriage a priority! And, it will get better!

How do you continue to educate yourself and your family about RAD?
11. How do you continue to educate yourself and your family about RAD?

Education is continuous. I read every article about RAD and PTSD that I can. I read books--my favorite so far is The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis.

What are your hopes and dreams for your daughter as she grows up?
12. What are your hopes and dreams for your daughter as she grows up?

My hopes and dreams for Jillian--I think I can say I speak for my husband as well when I say my biggest hope is for Jillian is for her to be happy. She has a lot going on in that beautiful head of hers, a lot of anger, fear, and sadness. I want her to be happy. To know how loved she is. I would also love to see her put her heart for people into action. I know Jillian has often said she wants to be a police officer. I think she would be amazing at it. Or a vet, or a nurse--something that shows her heart. And finally, I hope that she will see that God had a plan for her. And be able to use her story to help draw others to God.

Is there anything else I missed or you think is important to share?
13. Is there anything else I missed or you think is important to share?

Even though some of the behaviors of RAD are very hard, and yes, it can be frustrating, and yes, sometimes we get mad, we love her. We would never change having adopted her. We would do it again in a heartbeat. She is my precious angel. She is worth it. She deserves love. And we are so happy God chose her for our family.

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Ryann Sefcik

Ryann Sefcik never intended to be a writer but has always loved storytelling. Since she was 8, Ryann has performed on stages all over Northeast Ohio, using scripts and songs to tell the stories of different characters, but now it’s time for her to tell her own. Ryann began blogging with a friend at Betrothed Babies Blog after they both became moms 10 days apart from one another—one through pregnancy and one through adoption. As an adoptive mom and a step mom, Ryann personifies the thought that love, not blood, is what makes a family. By day, Ryann is an elementary music teacher and directs a children’s choir as well as a middle school drama club, but her favorite job is taking care of her three boys: ages 8, 6 months, and 35 (Her husband—he requires the most adult supervision!) She hopes to be able to bring comfort, joy, laughter, and empathy to the Adoption.com audience through her writing.


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