RAD, a disorder of betrayed innocence
Children with reactive attachment disorder have been abused, neglected and abandoned
Dan Hall, of Hagerstown, is president of the Washington County League of Foster and Adoptive Families. He and his wife Tina Hall are adoptive parents of two children with Reactive Attachment Disorder (R.A.D.). (By Colleen McGrath/Staff Photographer)
They have been abused, neglected and abandoned — never knowing the loving bond of mother and child.
Often, they are shuffled through foster homes, sometimes staying for only a day or two.
If they are adopted, the differences between them and children who grew up with parents who doled out attention become obvious.
Quiet and shy one moment, they suddenly can fall into fits of rage. They can be indiscriminately affectionate with strangers, but push away the hugs of those who love them. They lie, steal, lack a conscience and become destructive to themselves and their belongings.
They have reactive attachment disorder, also known as RAD.
Reactive attachment disorder is a problem with social interaction that occurs when a child's basic physical and emotional needs have been disregarded, particularly as an infant. Usually, experts said, the damage has been done during the first three years of life.
The child's basic emotional needs for comfort, stimulation and affection were never met, research shows, along with basic physical needs, such as food, toileting and play.
It's a condition that many foster/adoptive parents encounter, Dan Hall said. Frequently, those parents are unprepared for what faces them.
Foster parents for about four years, Dan and Tina Hall's diagnostic antenna went up quickly when a young girl came to live with them about three years ago.
"Her biological mom was sexually abused and that cycle of abuse was passed down to the child," Dan Hall said. "Her attachment disorder was full blown before she came to us."
Hall said the child exhibited 90 percent of the behaviors associated with reactive attachment disorder.
But, at that time, the Halls were unfamiliar with RAD.
"We had no clue what was wrong," Hall said. "All we knew was that she was different. We certainly had no idea what RAD was. We also didn't know the road we would have to traverse with this disorder."
What they did know, Hall said, was that the child's behavior was out of control. Discipline and punishment don't work with RAD children, he said.
"They eat it right up and it becomes part of their way of being controlling," he said.
Six months after the girl's arrival in their home, and with no change in her behavior, the Hagerstown couple began reaching out for help.
But for two years, they were frustrated.
There were few therapists in the area, or even the state, who could help her, Hall said.