Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) in Teens

Reactive attachment disorder, commonly known as RAD, is a complex phenomenon that occurs when a child is unable to establish appropriate emotional bonds in the early stages of life.

Although the exact cause may vary based on individual circumstances, the results can devastate families. Children who suffer from RAD often act out inappropriately, displaying extreme mood swings, anger and defiance. They often withdraw emotionally from friends, family and anyone who attempts to break through their emotional walls.

Traditional parenting strategies are rarely effective in dealing with aRAD child, often leading to lost hope for the parents and a grim future for the teen. However, if parents or caregivers seek professional help, they may discover that their troubled teen has hope after all.

Understanding the Causes of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder develops when an infant or child could never establish a healthy bond with parents or primary caregivers. This disorder is most commonly seen in children who were abandoned, orphaned, neglected or abused during their first three years of life.

Few RAD children have ever enjoyed a loving, caring or consistent bond with anyone in their lives. They frequently end up in the foster system or an adoption scenario.

Having emotionally unavailable caregiversand being shuffled from home to home (common for foster children) may also contribute to attachment difficulty. More than an emotional disorder, reactive attachment physically impedes neurological development, permanently rendering the child incapable of forming emotional bonds.

Symptoms & Effects of RAD in Teens

Teenagers who suffer from RAD typically become aggressive and controlling and are frequently labeled as delinquents or the dreaded “troubled teen.”

They rarely develop friendships with their peers. At home, these children may resist human contact or react violently when anyone attempts to touch them. This occurs as a result of perceiving touch as a threat. RAD kids are typically angry, defiant and argumentative.

Reactive attachment disorder also impedes the development of empathy and conscience.Consequently, children suffering from RAD may not register normal levels of remorse, regret or guilt. RAD manifests in two distinct ways. Either the child becomes withdrawn and non-responsive (Inhibited type) or becomes needy and dependent, seeking an inappropriate level of comfort from non-caregivers or even strangers(disinhibited type).

Getting Help for a Teenager with RAD

As noted above, most classicparenting techniques do not work well with RAD teens. It is often impossible to negotiate with them and they resist most attempts to use reason or logic.

Because of these challenges, parents and caregivers often take the stance that gaining control is necessary for dealing with a RAD child. Unfortunately, this approach virtually always backfires and, often, makes the situation worse.

Psychotherapy professionals understand that creating an environment of consistent emotional and physical safety is the only effective way to overcome the barriers that RAD teens build over time. It is also critical for caregivers to emotionally responsive and available and be willing to meet the child where she is.

In many cases, residential treatment academies are best prepared to deal with teens who suffer from reactive attachment disorder. Many of these facilities offer programs designed to provide the levels of security, consistency and availability that are necessary to overcome these challenges.

Before you select any treatment program for an adolescent or teen struggling with RAD, it is important to do your research and understand the needs of the child. Talk to facility administrators and staff members about how their program can help address attachment disorder, and don’t forget to review testimonials from past clients who experienced and overcame the same challenges you currently face. Click here to read Eva Carlston Academy reviews.

Unless you deal with your teen’s reactive attachment disorder appropriately, using the help of qualified professionals and evidence-based treatment protocols, your family will continue to fight these seemingly hopeless battles.