The Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

The 80s slang word “rad” (short for radical) was used to describe an excellent person or thing. Unlike rad, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) isn’t a positive thing at all, especially for those who suffer from this mental health condition.

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

RAD affects children who have received inadequate care from their parents or primary caregivers—typically their mothers before the age of 5. A child might have RAD if there’s nothing neurologically or medically wrong with them, but they still can’t properly form attachments. The child may have difficulties regulating distressing emotions and may have a flat affect (no smiles) during interactions with caregivers. When emotional care and nurturing is withheld from a child during their first few years, it can have a negative impact on the rest of their life. RAD can be caused by several factors, including:

• Disregard of a child’s basic physical needs
• Persistent neglect of a child’s emotional needs, withheld affection and care
• Frequent shifting of primary caregivers (i.e., parents, grandparents, guardians, foster care, etc.)

Symptoms of RAD

A child dealing with RAD may have one or more of the following symptoms:

• Detached, withdrawn or unresponsive
• Resists attempts to soothe or comfort
• Holds back or bottles up emotions
• Exhibits avoidant behaviors
• Inappropriately familiar with others
• Selective with attachment figures

Is RAD Common?

It’s hard to determine a precise percentage of children who have RAD since many families are either unaware of the problem or never seek help. However, it’s believed that RAD is an uncommon condition.

How is RAD Treated?

There are no lab tests to diagnose RAD at present. A physical exam, blood work or testing may be conducted by a doctor. If a physical cause for the symptoms isn’t discovered, the child may be referred to an adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist. There are two main goals of treating RAD:

1. Ensure that the child is in a safe environment, and
2. Help the child develop a healthy relationship with the primary caregiver.

In many cases, treatment for RAD will deal with the caregiver and focus on their behavior toward the child, teaching them appropriate parenting skills. Play therapy, where a child can express their fears and needs in a safe place, is one possible treatment for RAD. Though there’s no medication to treat RAD, a doctor may prescribe a medication to treat behavioral symptoms or other conditions.

Do They Outgrow It?

Left untreated, RAD can have a negative effect on a child’s behavioral, emotional, physical and social development. Children with RAD are typically at a higher risk for depression, low self-esteem, relationship challenges, learning difficulties and aggressive or violent behaviors. With proper treatment, it’s possible for RAD patients to trust others and have a healthy and fulfilling life. However, children who aren’t treated for RAD may exhibit personality disorders when they reach adulthood.

When is the Best Time to Seek Treatment?

If you’ve noticed attachment difficulties in any of your children, get medical assistance right away. The best way to prevent the long-term symptoms of RAD is to immediately begin treatments. Typically, the sooner parents get help for their RAD children, the better their chances are for living healthy lives as adults.

Though there’s no guaranteed method to cure the symptoms of RAD, proper parenting techniques and early prevention can help to improve the situation. If you’re struggling with how to handle a family member with RAD, here are some practical strategies that can help:

Get Help for Your Child

The best way you can assist your child with RAD is to recognize that you can’t do everything on your own. Getting help from family, or a medical professional, can be a huge first step in supporting your child. Love alone cannot fix trauma or attachment issues.

Get Help for Yourself

Seeking out professional assistance can help you better understand your child’s unique challenges and how to devise methods to help manage their symptoms. Also, getting guidance on how to handle your child during difficult moments can be a big benefit.

Stable Home

An effective way to help children with RAD is to provide a safe and secure home environment. Additionally, at least for the short-term, it might be a good idea to reduce the number of caregivers so that you can provide your child with the stability, consistency and attention they need.

Safe Environment

Make sure your child is in a place where they won’t be physically, mentally or emotionally harmed. This includes removing sharp objects or anything else that could lead to self-harm or harm to others in the family.

Get Clued In

One way to respond to your RAD child’s needs is to observe their habits and reactions. Pay close attention to their behaviors for clues to possible triggers. Try to anticipate difficult situations before they happen.

The best way to heal the brain is the natural way. At Amen Clinics, we look for the least harmful, most effective way of healing the brain, which typically means treating patients naturally (supplements, nutrition, lifestyle recommendations) rather than with high-powered psychiatric medications.

If you have a loved one who is suffering from any of the symptoms associated with RAD, our method of integrative psychiatric support can help. Using innovative and personalized care, our outcomes consistently demonstrate improvement for patients—including many who have tried and failed prior treatment.

Our Full Evaluation of your biological/psychological/social/spiritual history, coupled with two brain SPECT imaging scans (in concentrating and resting states), cognitive testing, and clinical assessment is designed to address unique needs and offer targeted treatment options.

If you would like to learn more about how brain imaging can provide customized solutions for you or a family member, call us today at 888-288-9834 or visit us online to schedule a visit.

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