The Reality of Raising a Child with Attachment Disorder

Attachment Disorder is common but managable.

Jennifer Galan June 11, 2018
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Attachment Disorder, and it’s more severe brother, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) may be one of the most feared adoption issues. While they are relatively uncommon in the general population, the spectrum of attachment issues is more common in adopted kids. While all known reasons for AD and RAD aren’t yet known, many attachment issues come from an infant’s early care, and can even begin in the womb. The journey with a child who has a RAD diagnosis, or who is on any level of the spectrum of attachment disorders, can be a bumpy one with no real end in sight.

Getting diagnosed can be tough.

When you have a kid who you know is just not “right” somehow, it gets terrifying pretty quick. You search every medical article, bombard the message groups and discussions, and still come up without many answers. Your GP or another medical doctor may be pretty hesitant to diagnose a psychological condition, and if you are lucky enough to get a referral to a behavioral health professional they may not see the same things you see, because RAD kids can be amazing at pulling out the charm for strangers. My experience with my AD child took three different professionals before one of them (who specialized in AD and RAD) was able to help. I was told that I just needed to be more consistent, or that she was just acting out. But I knew there was more to it. Keep going. Keep a list of behaviors and make sure you discuss all the ways your child may be acting out. You can’t get help without a diagnosis.

Accept the realities of the disorder.

Living with a RAD kid or a child with AD can get really rough, really fast. You need to always be one or two steps ahead of the behaviors that your kid uses to act out; know how you will respond and have a plan if things escalate. Kids can yell, scream, become physically violent, and more—especially once you start learning the best ways to parent kids with AD backgrounds. Think of it this way: It’s like they are so confident that you will leave them that they want to push you away before you leave. The only way their “fight or flight” reactions are soothed is when they are in control, and the way they control the situation is through causing massive chaos, so you will leave them (they think). The calmer and more stable you can stay, the more terrified they will become. Once you are familiar with the cycle you can better parent and teach the kid (slowly but surely) that you are there for good.

Residential care isn’t failure.

Some kids with RAD are best served in residential treatment centers at times. It’s heartbreaking, and we feel like the worst parents ever, but every parent of a RAD kid has a plan in their back pocket for if the child becomes too much of a danger to himself or others. Choosing to help your child this way is most definitely not a failure—it’s in his or her best interest. If you’ve tried therapy, medication, and behavioral modification, and your child is still out of control, then a time in a therapeutic center may be your next best choice.

We still love those kids like crazy.

It makes no sense to outsiders, but that kid who punches walls, steals food and money, screams obscenities, and tries to hit us? We adore that kid. We love that kid so much and so hard. We know how terrified they are and our hearts break for him or her every single time he or she has another outburst. And we know, deep down past the fear, that not only does he or she know we love him or her, he or she loves us too.

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Jennifer Galan

Jennifer Galan mothers four kids (one adopted, three biological) all while living the nomadic life of a military wife. She is a strong advocate for open adoptions, education reform, feminism, kindness, and naps. Mostly naps. Her favorite Doctor is number ten, and she is a proud Ravenclaw.


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