We all, at birth, were pre-programmed to bond with a significant person- a primary caregiver or parent. Attachment is the deep bond or relationship that an infant may have with a primary caregiver. Being the first interactive relationship of a child’s life, it greatly affects the child’s development and determines how they would relate with other people throughout his/her life. The absence or inadequate caregiving during infancy and early childhood may make children develop attachment issues such as reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorders.
Attachment issues may vary from mild problems, which can be easily corrected, to the more serious one known as reactive attachment disorder rad. Reactive attachment or disinhibited social engagement disorder is a condition in which a child cannot consistently connect or form a healthy attachment bond with their primary caregivers (parents or guardians) due to being grossly neglected by these caregivers. The effects of attachment disorder go beyond early childhood as the quality of childhood attachment experiences an infant has the foundation upon which their verbal and non-verbal communication in future relationships rests. Children with attachment issues or social engagement disorders may exhibit callous-unemotional traits, may be unable to express emotions, or understand other people's feelings around them, which, consequently, may limit their ability to build and maintain healthy relationships in their later years.
For children to feel a sense of safety and develop trust, their basic needs- emotional and physical- must be met. A young child that does not enjoy adequate care may begin to feel abandoned, unloved, and uncared for. Thus, the child may develop reactive attachment disorder rad, which can hinder them from cultivating secure attachment and emotional bond with the caregivers and make them exhibit negative traits and comorbid disorders. While sometimes, the situations that lead to attachment issues may be unavoidable, the child is still too young to understand the circumstances and reasons these things happen. So they end up with insecure attachment, feeling no one cares about them, believing they can’t depend on others, and that the world is a cruel and dangerous place.
When a child enjoys a stable and secure attachment, they grow into adults who can:
Little children can quickly build a sense of trust and form healthy attachments with their caregivers when their basic needs are consistently met. They will feel loved and easily trust and connect with caregivers who promptly attend to their needs and make them feel comfortable and cared for. The level of secure attachment bond a baby feels when their mother- or primary caregiver- promptly responds to and takes care of their needs from the baby’s first love relationship and shapes the baby’s brain development process.
Attachment issues such as reactive attachment disorder rad are commonly found in children between 9 months to 5 years old who may have been neglected or abused physically or emotionally. Though not common, reactive attachment disorder can continue beyond early childhood to the child’s more senior years, which may sometimes be misdiagnosed as some other type of emotional or attachment problems.
Reactive attachment disorder may likely develop if a child’s basic needs for love, care, comfort, nurture, and affection are not met. The child may not establish a good relationship and form a stable attachment with primary caregivers and thus, begin to exhibit reactive attachment disinhibited behaviors and traits. Some of the situations that may cause attachment issues in a child include:
The symptoms of reactive attachment disorder (RAD) may vary from child to child. Some of the signs in infants and young children with attachment disorders include:
Adolescents with reactive attachment disorder rad may exhibit symptoms that fall under these two categories:
Inhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder: In this case, children are aware of what is happening around them- are sometimes hyper-vigilant- but they do not respond or react typically. Children with these disorders tend to be callous-unemotional and insensitive, may be extremely withdrawn, emotionally detached, and resist comfort even when offered. They choose to keep to themselves and rarely show or seek affection from their caregivers and other people. They are excessively inhibited, i.e., holding back their emotions.
Disinhibited Reactive Attachment Disorder: Children with this attachment disorder may be excessively friendly towards outsiders or strangers. The child seems to seek and prefer the comfort and attention of outsiders or strangers to their parents. Children with reactive attachment disorder may act much younger than their age, they may be extremely dependent, and seek attention from just anybody in an unsafe way.
Children with RAD need to seek pediatric psychiatrists or psychologists who have been trained to diagnose and treat mental disorders in children and teens for an in-depth and thorough examination of the child. The symptoms found in children with RAD may also apply in cases of other mental disorders like autism spectrum disorder and bipolar disorder, so it is important to avoid giving a child this label without first reading a manual of mental disorders or conducting a comprehensive evaluation. Psychiatrists use specially designed assessment tools and interviews to evaluate the child’s behavior, and this evaluation may include:
It is believed that children with attachment problems or bipolar disorder can form a healthy and secure attachment, but their past experiences hindered their ability to do so. Children who have not enjoyed bonding in their early years may have a hard time accepting love and care, but with time, consistent efforts, and repetition, they can learn to trust again and accept love.
While there is no quick fix for reactive attachment disorder, early intervention is key. Reactive attachment disorder treatment usually involves a combination of therapy, parental education, and counseling to help the child have a loving and safe living environment/condition, develop a healthy relationship and positive interactions with caregivers and improve peer relationships. This treatment, most of the time, involves both the child and the parents or caregivers. Some of the treatment strategies for reactive attachment disorder include:
Other Strategies Include:
Regardless of the stage of reactive attachment disorder your child may currently be going through- even if the disorder has gone beyond early childhood- or how exhausting or frustrating it may have been for you, attachment problems can be treated. With the help of verified pediatric psychiatrists or psychologists like the ones at ReGain, you can learn how to boost childhood attachment, repair existing reactive attachment or disinhibited social engagement disorder, and help your family develop a healthy and loving relationship.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What are the symptoms of reactive attachment disorder?
Reactive attachment disorder RAD, although rare, is a serious developmental disorder that can start at infancy, childhood, or adolescence in young children. Reactive attachment disorder symptoms may vary from child to child and vary from adults' symptoms, depending on the surrounding circumstances. Reactive attachment disorder causes symptoms that may be hard for an absent or inattentive parent to identify and affect every child's life. Some of the reactive attachment disorder symptoms include persistent unhappiness or sadness (with no underlying cause), avoiding eye contact and physical touch, little or no interaction with peers and parents, anger and control issues, unexplained withdrawal, failure or inability to smile and ask for help or support when needed, etc. If left untreated, these symptoms are likely to develop inhibited reactive attachment disorder patterns and disinhibited reactive attachment disorder symptoms (Inhibited and disinhibited patterns). There are various attachment disorder treatments available to help combat this issue. However, it is best to speak to a doctor when choosing the attachment disorder treatment that is best for you.
What are the two types of reactive attachment disorder?
There are two major types of reactive attachment disorder RAD. Children with reactive attachment disorder RAD can exhibit any of the two types of reactive attachment disorder if it isn't treated at its initial stages. The two types of reactive attachment disorder are inhibited reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited reactive attachment disorder. The symptoms reactive attachment disorder types exhibit vary. Inhibited RAD shows symptoms of total detachment, withdrawal, unresponsiveness to comfort or emotions, and isolation. Disinhibited reactive attachment disorder symptoms include indiscriminate sociability, no preference for caregivers, abnormal or inappropriate familiarity with attachment figures. Although reactive attachment disorder symptoms vary between the two types, the attachment disorder treatment options are quite similar.
What does reactive attachment disorder look like in adults?
If left untreated or unattended in childhood, reactive attachment disorder RAD is likely to persist till adulthood. The effects of reactive attachment disorder symptoms in adults can be devastating. They can affect the individual’s mental health, relationships, self-esteem and give rise to other comorbid disorder symptoms of reactive attachment symptoms disorder shown in adults: anger and control issues, impulsiveness, detachment, and inability to show or receive affection, difficulty maintaining relationships, and many others. Reactive attachment disorders RAD in adults is disruptive. Individuals who experience reactive attachment disorder symptoms are advised to seek professional help for attachment disorder treatment to help lead a better life.
What is reactive attachment disorder?
Attachment is a deep and vital connection established between children and their caregivers. Children who lack attachment, care, attention, and love at infancy are likely to develop attachment issues. They can give rise to attachment disorders – Reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social engagement disorder. Reactive attachment disorder RAD refers to a condition where children cannot or find it difficult to develop healthy emotional attachments or connections with their parents or primary caregiver. A child subjected to neglect and lack of attention is more likely to develop reactive attachment disorder RAD. Also, children living with Autism spectrum disorder are likely to develop reactive attachment disorder symptoms with time. Children with reactive attachment disorders can get access to various attachment disorder treatment options. Reactive attachment disorder causes symptoms that influence how children with RAD respond to emotions, people, and situations.
How do you discipline a child with attachment disorder?
Disciplining a child with an attachment disorder such as reactive attachment disorder RAD is challenging but possible. It requires patience and understanding. The process of disciplining children with reactive attachment disorder RAD, exposes the emotional, behavioral, and social deficits that they may have. However, with the right approach and information, these deficits can be taken care of or reduced. The conventional way of discipline (yelling, lecturing, time-outs) may fail to work because of past events in their lives. Methods that might work include building connections before trying to correct, honest communication (not lectures), time-in rather than a time-out, exercising calmness and patience always, etc. These steps may be challenging to adapt to initially but can be helpful in the long run. Also, with treatment, reactive attachment disorder symptoms can be reduced and disciplining made easier.
How do I know if my child has attachment disorder?
Children and infants who experience constant abuse or neglect of physical or emotional needs may develop reactive attachment disorder symptoms. Parents or primary caregivers can identify if their children have reactive attachment disorder RAD by identifying persistent symptoms. However, reactive attachment disorder RAD can only be diagnosed by a professional healthcare giver. Suppose reactive attachment disorder symptoms, such as avoidance of eye contact, withdrawal, unresponsiveness to emotion, etc., are noticed. It is essential to seek professional help for the diagnosis and reactive attachment disorder treatment. This is highly important as reactive attachment disorder symptoms cause children to exhibit behavioral and relationship abnormalities from a tender age.
What is the best treatment for reactive attachment disorder?
There are several treatment options for children who develop a reactive attachment disorder. However, the best treatment for reactive attachment disorder varies depending on the child's unique circumstances and age. Also, reactive attachment disorder causes symptoms that determine the treatment used. In the majority of cases, a combination of reactive attachment disorder treatments is used. Treatment for reactive attachment disorder includes Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), play therapy, medications, neurofeedback, animal-assisted therapy, and many others. The attachment disorder treatment used depends on various factors, and these factors are considered by the healthcare giver and primary caregiver or parent before being carried out.