Dealing with Reactive Attachment Disorder

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What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a severe condition in which a young child suffers the absence of healthy and secure bonds with their primary caregivers. Children who have this disorder experience trouble managing their emotions and struggle to form healthy relationships with others.

It is only natural for babies to bond with adults who provide them with consistent, loving care, protect them, and calm them when they`re stressed. It is also natural for babies to develop healthy, secure attachments to such caregivers, whether they`re their parents,  grandparents, or daycare provider. The inability of babies to form healthy relationships with a stable adult causes them to develop reactive attachment disorder, which can have intense effects on a child’s development and future bonds.

Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Children who suffer from reactive attachment disorder usually refuse to follow rules and may lash out against others. This disorder, however, goes beyond behavioral problems. To qualify for a diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder, a child must show a consistent pattern of repressed, emotionally withdrawn behavior toward adult caregivers. Children with reactive attachment disorder rarely seek comfort when distressed, and rarely respond to comfort when they get it. They also show minimal social and emotional responsiveness and experience episodes of sadness, unexplained irritability, and fearfulness even during nonthreatening interactions with adult caregivers.

In addition to the aforementioned symptoms, the child must also have a history of insufficient care as shown through at least one of these:

  • Persistent lack of emotional warmth and affection from adults
  • Brought up in a setting that harshly limits a child’s opportunity to form selective attachments
  • Changes in primary caregivers that restrict the child’s opportunity to form a stable attachment

These symptoms must be present before the child is five years old,  and the child must be at least nine months old to qualify for a diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder.

How to Diagnose Reactive Attachment Disorder

babyThe first set of people to notice that a child exhibits emotional and behavioral issues are teachers, daycare providers, and primary caregivers. After careful observations, they are advised to report to a mental health professional who will then carry out a thorough examination to establish whether a child has reactive attachment disorder. The examination may include:

  • A thorough study of the child’s development and living situation
  • Direct observation of the child`s interaction with a caregiver
  • Interviews with the primary caregivers to learn more about parenting styles and the child`s behavior
  • Observation of the child’s behavior

A mental health professional will want to ascertain if a child’s symptoms could be related to other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorders, mood disorders, autism,  and cognitive disabilities.

Causes of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder may occur as a result of inadequate child care, or a child`s interactions with unstable and inconsistent caregivers. When caregivers consistently fail to respond to the infants` cries or don`t nurture and love children, then they may develop reactive attachment disorder.

Here are some other causes of reactive attachment disorder:

  • A child’s mother is incarcerated and the child resides with various relatives without being in the same home long enough to form a strong bond with any adult
  • A mother has depression, and as a result, doesn’t show her child much affection
  • A child is taken from their birth parents and placed in foster care where they don’t form secure relationships with any caregivers
  • Children whose parents have serious substance abuse problems or are under the influence of alcohol
  • Children whose parents aren’t able to provide adequate care
  • Babies who are placed in an orphanage and have many different caregivers
  • A young mother who doesn’t understand child development basics.

How to Treat Reactive Attachment Disorder

hospitalBefore treating a child with reactive attachment disorder, first, the child should have a loving, caring, and stable environment. Caregivers of such children should also receive education about reactive attachment disorder and how to build trust and develop a healthy bond. Caregivers may also need to attend parenting classes to learn how to manage behavior problems.

There’s no standard treatment for reactive attachment disorder, however, whatever measures mental health professionals take would usually involve the child and parents or primary caregivers. The goals of treatment are to ensure that the child has a safe and stable living condition, as well as develop positive interactions and strengthens the bond with parents and caregivers. Treatment strategies for reactive attachment disorder include:

  • Providing constant caregivers to foster a stable attachment for the child
  • Providing a positive, refreshing, and interactive environment for the child
  • Encouraging the child’s development by being nurturing, responsive, and caring
  • Ensuring the child’s medical, safety, and housing needs are met

Tips for Parents whose Children Suffer Reactive Attachment Disorder

  • Educate yourself and your family about reactive attachment disorder.
  • Find someone who can give you a break periodically, as it can be exhausting caring for a child with reactive attachment disorder. However, avoid using multiple caregivers.
  • Choose a caregiver who is nurturing and familiar with reactive attachment disorder or educate the caregiver about the disorder.
  • Acknowledge that it is okay to feel frustrated or angry sometimes.
  • Practice stress management skills. Learning and practicing yoga or meditation can be relaxing.
  • Engage in social activities.
  • Exercise regularly.

Facts About Children`s Mental Health

  • One in five children has a diagnosable mental disorder.
  • Children may suffer major mental illness from as early as 7 to 11 years old.
  • Factors that predict mental health problems are usually identifiable in the early years.
  • One in 10 youth has serious mental health problems that are critical enough to affect how they function at home and school.
  • 85% of children and youth who need mental health services don`t receive them.
  • 80% of children with private health insurance and 70% with public health insurance have pending mental health problems.
  • Depression affects more children and young people than it has in the last few decades.
  • Teenagers are more likely to experience depression than young children.
  • Self-harm is a common problem among young people.
  • Some young people report that self-harm helps them manage intense emotional pain.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can cause young people to become extremely worried. Young children starting or moving school may have separation anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur as a result of being the victim of violence, physical or sexual abuse, experiencing extremely frightening situations, suffering bullying, or surviving a disaster.
  • Children who are consistently hyperactive, behave impulsively, and have difficulty paying attention may have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • There are more boys than girls who are affected by ADHD, and scientists don`t fully understand the reasons for this.
  • Eating disorders usually start in the teenage years and are more common in girls than boys.
  • Unknown to many, mental illness patients are not necessarily violent; only 3-5% of violent acts are attributed to people with severe mental illness.
  • People who have experienced a major disaster are twice at risk of mental health issues than those who haven`t.
  • There are a number of treatment options for mental health problems; some of which are yoga and OTC medication.
  • Genetics, illness, injury, and traumatic life experiences are common causes of mental illness.
  • Communicating with family and friends during stressful periods plays a major role in preventing mental health illness.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the world and accounts for over 800,000 deaths globally every year.