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Recognizing Reactive Attachment Disorder in Children

RAD is an emotional condition that prevents children from forming normal or loving relationships with other people. It is thought to result from a child’s experiences with serious neglect or abuse, or from frequent changes in caregivers at a young age (for example, in orphanages or foster care).

Signs and symptoms of reactive attachment disorder typically start in infancy and usually develop as a result of a lack of consistent physical and emotional nurturing. Some behaviors that may indicate a need for treatment include a persistently sad or fearful appearance, difficulty making eye contact, poor motor development, and an intense aversion to touch or affection.

Some RAD children are inhibited in their expression of symptoms, while others exhibit disinhibited behavior and seek comfort from anyone who will give it to them. Both groups tend to experience problems with social and emotional development as well as behavioral issues, including defiance and aggression. RAD can be difficult to diagnose, and some of its symptoms overlap with those of other disorders such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or conduct disorder. Therefore, it is important to consult a developmental pediatrician, a psychiatrist, or a psychologist when possible before assigning a diagnosis of RAD.

There are a number of treatments that can help a child with RAD, including psychotherapy and special education services. Therapists who specialize in treating RAD may also work with the child’s parents to provide parenting skills and support. In some cases, the child may be placed with a sibling who has a more secure relationship in order to model healthy interactions for the child.

Children with RAD often need to be disciplined, but it is important that the discipline does not escalate into physical violence. Parents should avoid yelling or lecturing the child in front of other people, and should instead focus on one-on-one sessions. They should also avoid attempting to discipline the child with controversial techniques such as “holding therapy,” which involves a therapist or caregiver physically restraining the child.

It is important to recognize and treat RAD in children so that they can grow up to have healthy relationships with other people and be successful in life. Early recognition and intervention can help reduce the risk of negative outcomes later in life, such as borderline personality disorder or other forms of mental illness. In addition, it can reduce the likelihood that the child will experience ongoing social, emotional, or behavioral difficulties and be at risk of becoming a juvenile offender. The American Psychiatric Association recommends that all families with children who exhibit signs of RAD seek professional help. You can find help by joining a parent support group or asking your doctor about other resources for families of children with RAD. The good news is that children with RAD can learn to form healthy relationships, and there are many resources available for parents who need them. It is worth it to make the effort.

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