How Would I know if my Child Could Have RAD?

Have you ever wondered how therapists diagnose Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)? Have you asked yourself, “Why does it take so long to get that diagnosis?”

It’s amazing, but there aren’t many physicians or therapists that really understand RAD. They often diagnose a child by their behaviors. The first diagnosis is usually ADHD. What helps kids with ADHD? A drug containing methamphetamine.

Now a true ADHD child does respond well to those drugs. All those drugs do for a child with RAD is wind them up like a top. They can become whirling dervishes. Their ability to concentrate becomes impossible and their behaviors escalate.

Children running

What are the specific behaviors of a child with RAD? There are so many, it’s hard to predict which ones will be more pronounced in any given child. Outwardly lying and stealing are issues almost every family sees.

It’s the control issues that really define RAD. The child has an uncommon need for control of every aspect of his or her life. The loss of control caused by traumatic experiences in a young child’s life, often results in a brain that says “Protect yourself at any cost!”

Rages that can last from five minutes to untold hours can be caused by someone telling the child “No!” When the rages happen, they can cause PTSD in many family members. While in a rage, the child can lash out with physical aggression usually towards his/her mother or another child.

Control, Control, Control. This is the name of the game for a child with RAD. You have no idea how manipulative a child can be until you have lived every day with RAD. They will triangulate parents and the other children in the family. These kids will play parent against parent, siblings against parents or siblings against siblings, anything to control everyone in the family.

Photo by cottonbro on

These kids with RAD do not respond to normal parenting. They will sulk, scream, rage, or run away. Therapy, unless a family is lucky to find an attachment therapist, usually is a costly experiment. Kids with RAD do not respond to talk therapy very well.

The next question is do kids with RAD respond to a Residential Treatment Facility (RTF)? The answer is “not particularly well.” Once the children settle in, they begin to figure out who they can control or manipulate.

Sending a child to an RTF gives the adoptive parents some breathing room. It is important for decisions to be made before the child returns home.

There are groups and programs that offer parents of a child with RAD information how to help change parenting techniques or as support systems.

It’s really important to identify a child with RAD the younger the better. Getting diagnoses that really don’t apply keeps the child from getting the correct diagnosis and many years of psychoactive medications that don’t really work except to make the child either hyperactive or lethargic.  

If you have further questions about Reactive Attachment Disorder, please contact me at:

N. Ann Lamphere, MSW

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