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Reactive Attachment Disorder

Rita Putatunda Feb 10, 2019
Reactive Attachment Disorder is a condition which develops in a child due to severe, chronic neglect, especially during his/her early years of life. Find out more about this.
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a condition, wherein the person afflicted with it has problems forming intimate, lasting, and loving relationships. While it can vary in severity, however, the term generally refers to people who display almost a complete lack of the ability to be affectionate towards others.
Typically, they are not successful at developing a conscience, and do not have the ability to trust others. This disorder usually starts before a child is 5 years of age, which is due to severe neglect and carelessness during the first 3 years of the child's life.


Here are some of the conditions that make a child susceptible to developing RAD, the crucial period being from when the child is in the womb up to about 26 months of age.
  • The ambivalence of the mother toward her pregnancy
  • The child being suddenly separated from his/her primary caregiver, which could be due to the death or illness of the mother, or the child being suddenly hospitalized
  • The child being abused sexually, emotionally, or physically
  • The child being frequently moved or placed in foster care, or failed adoptions
  • Being under the care of mothers who are unprepared, and have inadequate parenting skills
  • Inadequate or inconsistent day care
  • Trauma during birth
  • Being predisposed to it genetically
  • Pathological neglect of the child
  • Traumatic experience in the womb, such as being exposed to drugs or alcohol in the uterus.
Many children with this disorder, therefore, learn very early that the world is an unsafe place. Thus, they develop a protective shell around their feelings. This is done so as to isolate themselves from the painful experience of dependency and attachment towards their caregivers.
Since the child becomes dependent on this protective shell as his/her sole means of surviving and coping with the world, it is very difficult to alter. Essentially, they devise this as a method of self-protection, and they view anybody trying to remove this protective shell as a threat. This results in their turning against the caregivers who are trying to help them.


Children with RAD lose their ability to trust others. This is, because one can only trust the people who care for us if we love them. Unfortunately, these kids have been hurt deeply whenever they have loved and trusted someone.
Hence, they develop a method to deal with relationships on their own terms, to protect themselves against being hurt again. They try and control everything and everyone around them. They do not allow anybody to get past the protective barriers they create around themselves, until they prove that they are truly worthy of trust.
This lack of trust makes them seem conscienceless at times. They become so self-reliant, that the needs of others get ignored, to the extent that they can destroy, damage, and steal whenever they feel any hindrance to their sense of control. They also have trouble trusting anybody in authority.

Symptoms Displayed by Children

  • Being unattached and aloof, they form relationships only based on need, with no regard, or very little of it, towards the caregiver.
  • They display signs of developmental backwardness, wherein they have problems with conceptual thinking, or cause-and-effect kind of thinking.
  • They exhibit a lack of control over their impulses, and are disruptive and/or aggressive.
  • Behavioral problems in school, along with learning difficulties, are observed.
  • They display symptoms of depression and low self-esteem.
  • One of the most disturbing aspects of these children is their complete lack of remorse. These children want to be in control, and do not let themselves be parented.

Treatment Options

Most children in the foster care system display attachment problems, while only a few of them are actually diagnosed as having reactive attachment disorder. Attachment is a behavior that is learned.
Children diagnosed with this disorder require special counseling in order to be able to overcome it, and usually also need psychiatric or residential care.
The treatment for reactive attention disorder is focused on the caregiver. Counseling is generally used to deal with the issues that are having an effect on the caregiver's relationship with the child.
Attachment can be developed in this relationship by teaching parenting skills. Play therapy is often used as a form of treatment. This helps the caregiver and the child, give expression to their needs, fears, and thoughts in the safety of the play context.