Reactive Attachment Disorder

RAD Signs, Symptoms & Causes

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) children are often described as angry, lying, uncaring, and violent children. The signs and symptoms are as varied as the causes.

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a condition where individuals have difficulty forming loving, lasting intimate relationships. They do not trust anyone other than themselves to provide for their needs and safety. These individuals often fail to develop a conscience; do not feel empathy, and having a genuine affection for people or pets is beyond their reach.

Children with reactive attachment disorder can be divided into four categories:

The Ambivalent Children –

  • Are angry, defiant & can be violent.
  • Will push affection away to keep control
  • Are destructive both with their own belonging and others
  • Are extremely difficult children to parent because they sabotage or destroy almost everything positive that happens to them.
  • When they want something, they act very affectionately.
  • Have few friends if any, although they will say they do, listing several acquaintances – keep friends only for a short time
  • Lack the ability to give and receive love
  • Lack empathy for others – often cruel to animals and other children.

The Anxious Children –

  • Tend to be overly clingy, showing extreme separation anxiety when separated from their mothers.
  • Incessantly chatters to control the conversation
  • Appear to be eager to please and are superficially compliant.
  • Are often passive-aggressive, constantly doing little things wrong, but never doing anything really bad, but frazzling the parent’s patience and control.
  • Usually recover faster than those in the other categories

The Avoidance Children –

  • Are often overlooked as they are very compliant, agreeable & superficially engaging,
  • Lack depth to their emotions & functions – robotic-like, not genuine or real in emotional engagement.
  • Don’t enjoy being around others because they don’t feel safe.
  • Are Omnipotent – believing that they can care for all their own needs by themselves, and do not need others, especially their mothers.
  • Are sullen and openly oppositional, but mostly in a passive-aggressive way.

The Disorganized Children –

  • Have highly disorganized behavior and a bizarre showing a variety of symptoms.
  • Hide anger deep inside, they are easier to deal with, harder to treat.
  • May have atypical psychosis, bipolar disorder, and other neurological disorders.
  • Often will have mental illness in the family history.
  • Are excessively excitable (other RAD children are usually moody.)
  • Are most difficult to treat in therapy because they have so many different problems and often require medication and out-of-home care.

Other Signs & Symptoms

Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder in infants may include: weak crying response, rage, constant whining, sensitivity to touch and cuddling, poor suckling response and eye contact, and no reciprocal smile response.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Children may also have these symptoms: lack of conscience development, lack of eye contact except when lying, will not give or receive affection (hugs & kisses), no impulse control, abnormal eating patterns (gorging, hoarding, etc.), constantly making noise of some kind, pacing, and unusual speech patterns (mumbling, robotic, talking softly).

RAD can and has been misdiagnosed as Bipolar disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Anti-Social Personality Disorder, and Conduct Disorder.

What Causes Reactive Attachment Disorder?

The bond between a child and mother/primary caregiver is essential during the first three years of life. Without this bonding, the child will not have learned how to feel trust, love, compassion, and empathy. These four survival skills are crucial to developing into a loving, caring child and adult. Fifty percent of our survival skills are learned during the first year, twenty-five percent during the second, and the last twenty-five percent is learned from 3 years of age and on. Below is a list of circumstances that can prevent this necessary bond from forming.

    • Abandonment, abuse, neglect in the first three years of life
    • Maternal alcohol/drug use
    • Lack of attunement between mother and child
    • Young, or inexperienced mother with poor parenting skills
    • Maternal ambivalence toward pregnancy
    • Multiple primary caregivers/ foster care system
    • Institutionalized – orphanage adoption
    • Inconsistent/inadequate day care
    • Separation from Birth Parents – death, divorce
  • Genetic disposition
  • Separation from birthmother due to hospitalization, incubator, etc which prohibit adequate touch
  • Undiagnosed/Untreated painful illness (ear infections, colic, hernia, etc.)
  • Birth Trauma/ Traumatic prenatal experience
  • Mother with chronic depression