In January, I spent the weekend at an Advanced Therapeutic Parenting Workshop for people who have kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder. There are different types of Attachment Disorders, and in our home, we have multiple children with at least some degree of attachment “issues” going on. If you look up RAD you’ll mostly find people talking about adoption. But did you know that birth kids can end up with Reactive Attachment Disorder as well? How does this happen?
- If the pregnancy is unexpected and unwanted
- If there is a lot of arguing and yelling going on while the baby is in the womb and/or after the baby is born
- A traumatic birth. A baby who had to “wait” in the womb, ready to be delivered by the hospital staff was not ready
- If the mother uses drugs, alcohol or cigarettes during the pregnancy
- If the mother is ill or depressed
- If the baby has underlying health issues that are not treated. This can be chronic, undiagnosed ear infections, acid reflux, allergy to a formula, colic, etc.
- If the baby is separated from its’ mother–an extended stay in the hospital, daycare too soon, etc.
- If the family moves a lot
- If the baby is abused in any way (emotionally, physically, sexually) by anyone
- Self-centered parenting…If the baby’s needs were not met when the baby needed them to be met
- A stressful environment
Since learning about RAD and seeing it play out in my kids, I’ve developed new opinions about parenting entirely. You don’t spoil a baby by holding them. In most “undeveloped” countries, mothers carry their babies in a front or back pouch the majority of the day. In our modern culture, we’ve determined that it’s best to leave babies in swings, bouncy seats, high chairs, car seats and exersaucers–and we have done a great disservice to our babies and their ability to bond to us. Once upon a time I used the “let them cry it out” method, and now I disagree with it, for the most part. I think that there is a difference between a manipulative cry (after 6+ months) and a cry for a need to be met. The baby whose needs are not met will lie there in the crib, alone, scared, and stress hormones will flood his or her brain.Â When stress hormones flood the brain, the connections are mixed up. When brain connections are mixed up, behaviors change.
The behaviors of RAD are different, depending on the child. A kid with Reactive Attachment Disorder may:
- Be superficially charming
- Be super shy and clingy and unreasonably afraid of others
- Not want to look in mom and dad’s eyes
- Be a kid who doesn’t seem to want or need hugs
- Lie easily, often, and about things that are obviously not true
- Hoard food
- Have rude eating habits (purposely eat loud, messy, etc.)
- Have trouble making or keeping friends
- Be obsessed with things that are dangerous: weapons, fire, etc.
- Yell, scream, tantrum A LOT
- Feel entitled to things
- Point out everything they think isn’t fair
- Hurt themselves
- Hurt others
- Hurt animals
- Be hyperactive, have a lack of control
- Go to strangers easily
- Attempt to triangulate adults
- Stutter or almost whisper at particular times (not always), especially when they’re being asked about something they did wrong or to give an apology
- Seem to have a lack of conscience
- Be hyper-vigilant, and seem paranoid
- Have learning disabilities
- Try to control any situation they enter
These kids usually also have gut issues going on. Our 8 year old son (with RAD) had severe constipation, and he self induced it even more. Â RAD kids often smell like they’ve always got gas. Our son did, too.Â GAPS has made significant changes in our son’s life. He no longer has gut issues. He doesn’t smell bad anymore. He does not have constipation anymore. His mood is calmer.
There are different theories about how to handle RAD. My personal favorite author is Nancy Thomas. Her R.A.D. testimony is amazing. She specializes in taking care of kids who have killed (either animals or people), and has an 85% success rate at healing these kids (the highest in the country). I especially like her book When Love is Not Enough. Some of the techniques that have worked best in our family are:
- Soft eyes–RAD kids need to have a gentle and loving atmosphere to heal
- Blanket time/keeping a RAD kid near mom
- Jumping jacks when the kid is “in a funk” (a mini trampoline works great for this too–the motion helps the brain switch gears)
- Calming down the stress level in our home–paying attention to what/who adds stress to our family, and protecting our RAD kid from those things/people
- Bottle time, even for big kids-making up for lost time. Even if you had them as an infant and did have those cuddly moments, if they had RAD, they were not bonding like they should have, and they need that time again…
- A routine–they feel out of control when there isn’t one
- “Strong sit”–a particular type of sitting that helps regulate their brain. Not for discipline, but to help calm them down and to bring order to their life. My kids have a morning routine–get up, get dressed, go potty, brush your teeth, pick up your room, strong sit and wait for mom. Kids shouldn’t strong sit for long periods of time
- Neuro exercises, to bring the brain back through infant and toddler development–I will share more about this soon
- Neurofeedback, to calm the down the brain and train it to respond appropriately. In our 8 year old’s initial brain scan, parts of his brain were awake like an adult’s (because of the stress hormones that flooded his brain as a baby), and part of his brain was still asleep like a baby’s. Connections are not being made properly, and he will not be able to heal until his brain knows how to respond…I’ll share more about this later.
- Less freedoms. When our son with RAD was allowed to run out in the backyard and play with his brothers, without us near him, he was always in a funk that night. Not just a funk–a screaming, tantruming, things-aren’t-going-my-way-and-I’m-mad kind of funk. If he stays near us and does not have the chance to run off like that, he does not have the tantrums. At first, he got angry that we said “no” about him running off. Now, he hugs us and says “thank you for keeping me safe.” He is learning what his little heart needs!!
- Changing his diet. I think this has been one of the keys to his healing. For a little while, we let him eat corn chips and rice when we went out to Mexican restaurants. His severe constipation came back again. When people don’t feel good, many times, they don’t act good, either. The gut and the brain are so connected (they were the first 2 major parts of the body developed in the womb–they have equal hormone levels, etc.). I think, in general, if someone has mood issues going on, the first thing they need to heal is their gut.
The thing that I love is that kids with RAD can heal. The mom who taught the class I went to has 8 kids, 5 of whom were adopted (1 foster kid, 2 bio kids), and her kids are all healed! We have seen a lot of healing in our son, and we believe that someday he can be fully healed.