It’s a long story, but I just finished reading a book about Ted Bundy.
The book I read, The Stranger Beside Me, was written by Ann Rule, a former Seattle cop-turned-writer who just happened to work with Ted Bundy on a suicide hotline in the early 1970s.
Ms. Rule had already started researching and writing a book about the serial killings that started in Washington in 1974 when she discovered that the subject of her book was none other than Ted himself, a young man she thought of as a younger brother and “confidant.”
She remained his friend for the rest of his life, until he was executed by the state of Florida in 1989. She wrote the book, she says, not to excuse his crimes but to portray the whole man. She knew him as well as anyone, and in the epilogue to her book, published in 1980, she states her opinion that Ted Bundy had no conscience. Aha! So I started thinking, hmmm, RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)…
Ted Bundy does have some classic early attachment disruptions. His unwed mother become pregnant with him, and to avoid the scandal it would have been in that day, Ted was told that she was his sister and that his grandparents were his parents. His “sister” took him away from his “parents” when he was a young boy to raise him in a distant city, and he never got over the loss of the relationship he had formed with his father/grandfather.
Ironically, Ted Bundy obtained a psychology degree in college and, by all accounts, was warm and compassionate with callers on the crisis line. Numerous mental health professionals he had worked with came out in support of him after he was accused, declaring emphatically that there was no way he could be responsible for such heinous crimes.
I know this is a bit of a stretch, but stay with me for a minute. It makes me think of our adopted RAD kids and how they can be so charming and yes, even manipulative, with neighbors and other grown-ups who don’t for a second understand why we parents have problems with such cute kids.
The reason I even bring it up is that I think we sometimes get so discouraged at how difficult our kids can be, and at how much effort and energy is required to work with their attachment issues. Like the lying, for example. Don’t you just want to run screaming into the hills if you hear one more lie? That’s the one that really gets to me.
But the good news is–and it took Ted Bundy to show me–at least we know our kids have a problem. Anyone reading a Reactive Attachment Disorder blog is already aware of the issue and is doing something about it. When the Florida judge sentenced Ted to die in the electric chair, he talked about what a waste of a human being it was, how Ted would have made a brilliant lawyer and how the judge would have enjoyed having Ted practice in his court. What if we had known about RAD back then? In time to intervene with Ted Bundy?
Obviously not all RAD kids–even without intervention–grow up to be prolific mass murderers, but they struggle so mightily with empathy, don’t they? I’ve heard that many of the kids Nancy Thomas has worked with have already killed. It’s a disturbing fact that having no conscience can lead to cold-hearted violence. Yet Nancy Thomas is often able to turn the kids around, work with them and help them be successful in forever families.
We adoptive parents of RAD kids are doing the same work. The trauma to a neglected child ripples out through a lifetime, but we do our best to help them learn empathy, to be parents they can safely attach to, to prepare them to be functional members of society. If we’re lucky enough to have kids that already have some empathy–even if they need a whole lot more–maybe we should thank our lucky stars and realize it could be a whole lot worse.