Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Reactive Attachment Disorder is a very uncommon condition that appears in children before the age of five who have been grossly neglected, abused, or abruptly separated from caregivers and who fail to form healthy emotional bonds with their mothers.

A healthy attachment style can only develop when a child receives regular attention and affection from the mother and/or father which creates feelings of trust and security and facilities the ability to consider the feelings and needs of others.  A healthy attachment style is also important to the development of a healthy level of self-esteem and for building meaningful relationships with others.

Those suffering from Reactive Attachment Disorder fail to act appropriately in social situations, may become overfamiliar with strangers, find it difficult to trust others, are unable to feel guilty for wrong acts committed, and fail to develop a conscience.

What are the Symptoms of Reactive Attachment Disorder?

Typical traits of people who suffer from RAD may include cruelty to animals, poor peer relationships, stealing, lying, self-destructive or accident prone, an obsession with fire, abnormal speech patterns, odd eating habits, only appears to be charming and engaging, very clingy and inappropriately demanding, unresponsive or resistant to comforting, and often displays excessive inhibition.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Causes

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is an environmental mental health disorder that is caused by the lack of a stable and nurturing environment when a child is in his or her early infancy. The failure to form those early attachments can lead to serious personality disorders as the child grows into adulthood. Those initial bonds with a parent or caregiver are essential to a child’s sense of self, self-esteem, trust and emotional well-being. RAD often develops into other conditions such as acute anxiety and depression, developmental delays in school, anger issues, eating disorders, difficulties making and keeping friends and these children are at greater risk of developing a dependence on drugs or alcohol.

RAD can occur in a variety of circumstances. If an infant is kept in institutionalized care of some sort and has multiple primary caregivers, RAD can be the result. Certainly, any sort of early abuse or neglect would contribute to its development. If the mother suffers from postpartum depression, she may be unable to provide that early sense of security and stability that is crucial to those initial attachments that can prevent the onset of RAD.

How is Reactive Attachment Disorder Treated?

Treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder focuses on making sure that the child is in a safe environment and on teaching the caregiver parenting skills that will create a healthy relationship with the child.

While there is no medication specifically designed to treat Reactive Attachment Disorder medication may be prescribed to treat accompanying conditions such as problems sleeping or explosive anger.

Reactive Attachment Disorder Prevention

The best way to prevent Reactive Attachment Disorder would be to insure that the infant is immediately placed in a stable and secure home with a nurturing caregiver. Care for new mothers and early diagnosis of postpartum depression certainly would help prevent RAD. In the event that the mother is unable to care for her child, working to make certain that the infant has a primary caregiver in whatever setting the child is placed would be preferable than multiple people providing care for the baby. Pre and post natal support for mothers and families are critical to insuring that those first few crucial months in the development of the child set him or her up for a happy and successful life.

Last Reviewed:
September 21, 2016
Last Updated:
December 05, 2017
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