Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) – A Misunderstood Diagnosis

Are you an adoptive parent of a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)? If not, do you know a family that has one? You just might, but not be aware of what the parents are living through.

Why is it so hard to believe an adoptive family is having difficulties with their adopted child? One of the main reasons for this is the children themselves. The children with RAD are good at hiding their behaviors from other people including other family members not living in their home.

There’s actually a name for the child’s behavior outside the family – it’s called “manipulation.” A child with RAD can read people like a book. They do this in less than five minutes and convince those people what a great kid they are.

The behaviors of a child with RAD are amazingly complex.  Oh sure, they lie, steal, have tantrums, or are defiant, but no one, not in the family, seems to understand the toll other, less noticeable, behaviors take on the family.

One of the least known of these behaviors is triangulation of family members. They will set a sibling against another sibling or parent against other child or parent against parent. The child is in control and nobody can figure this out unless they live with a child that does this.

Divorces among parents of a child with RAD are not common, but they do happen. This usually happens when a child has convinced the dad that mom is the problem. The child is the one who wins in those circumstances. Does this help the child? Not usually. The child does this to control his environment.

Another issue is using bodily functions to control everyone, parents, teachers or siblings. The child usually gets satisfaction in disrupting adults and other children that they dislike.

People, who do not understand RAD, always say the child needs therapy. Sorry to tell everyone, but therapy does not work with children diagnosed with RAD. The kids won’t talk!!! Play therapy has been used with varying degrees of success. A therapist who has been trained in RAD therapy may understand the problem, but it works for some and not for others.

Is there anything that works with these children with RAD? Is there a cure for RAD. There are several groups out there that support and say they can help the child with RAD change their behaviors.

Professionals from medical/psychiatric clinics say there really isn’t a cure for the child except medication and therapy. Sorry, but the wrong medication can be detrimental to a child with RAD.

Looking at the child’s need for controlling their environment, sometimes a change of residence makes a difference. These changes can be a therapeutic boarding school, residential treatment facility or a new home. Removing the triggers from their first adoptive home can help the child adjust.

If you have any questions regarding Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), please email me at:

Thanks for reading my post.

N. Ann Lamphere, MSW

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