Foster Care Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder

IMG_3806This story sends a powerful message to adoptive parents. Reader Yolanda Rodriguez urges me to open discussions about fostering a baby or young child who has RAD and how children are diagnosed.

Yolanda Rodriguez says, “Please research Reactive Attachment Disorder asap! I adopted a special needs little girl, whose parents abused drugs and alcohol during pregnancy and neglected the baby during the first three months of her life before giving up their parental rights… results were endless diagnosis, FAS, ADHD, ODD… the worst of all RAD! This child is afraid to love and misbehaves in order to turn you away from them, worse is the lack of treatment coverage by insurance, little expertise about it in the medical field, and not too much effective support available for parents, families and the child itself.”

Yolanda tell me that private agencies should explain this condition during the foster-to-adopt domestic programs. “RAD can happen easily to an infant when they are not nurtured, they do not necessarily need to be listed as a Special Needs child. But they are!”

Yolanda, I want to discuss this topic without potential parents becoming more wary of adopting an older child. I want people to become educated about it. What I found:

RAD can be a serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers, according to the Mayo Clinic and other adoption experts.

A child with RAD has been neglected, abused or orphaned and the condition develop because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and caring attachments are never established.

Whip out the tissues for this one: RAD may permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurting the ability to establish future relationships.

Reactive attachment disorder is a lifelong condition but begins before age 5. Signs and symptoms in babies may include:

  • Withdrawn, sad appearance, no smiling
  • Failure to reach out when picked up
  • No interest in playing peekaboo or other interactive games
  • No interest in playing with toys
  • Engaging in self-soothing behavior, such as rocking or self-stroking
  • Calm when left alone

Some of the causes of attachment problems are  subtle and often go unrecognized. Symptoms in toddlers and older children may include:

  1. Withdrawing from others
  2. Avoiding or dismissing comforting comments or gestures
  3. Acting aggressively toward peers
  4. Watching others closely but not engaging in social interaction
  5. Failing to ask for support or assistance
  6. Obvious awkwardness or discomfort
  7. Masking feelings of anger or distress
  8. Alcohol or drug abuse in adolescents

If you have an adoption story to tell, comment below!

Add a Comment
Back To The Adoption Diaries, by Nicole Dorsey-Straff
  1. by January24

    On October 14, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Reactive Attachment Disorder is a nightmare. I adopted a child at age seven. The child is 14 now and is a danger to everyone around him. He lives in a residential facility away from home and will never be able to live at home again. Improvement through therapy is slow, if improvement comes at all. Some children never get better. If you are considering adopting an older child with a background of abuse or neglect, think twice. Then think again. Unless you have hundreds of thousands of dollars that you wish to devote to the care of a child who may never see you as family, be careful.

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    On November 18, 2011 at 10:53 am

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  3. by Samsung Skyrocket Accessories

    On November 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    magnificent post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector don’t notice this. You should continue your writing. I’m sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  4. by Sarah

    On December 19, 2011 at 6:07 pm


    I’m sorry to hear about the problems you have had with your son. But do you see him as your son? You call him “the child” in your post and display a degree of detachment. You express concern that he “may never see you as family” but it’s a two way street.

  5. by Marchelle Locke

    On March 15, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I tried to adopt a little girl a few years back and was actually saved a lot of heart ache and pain by the social worker that had a good grasp of RAD and even after I insisted I wanted her she refused. I am so thankful that she won the war. My heart aches for the children who suffer from this.

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  7. by grace

    On June 14, 2012 at 2:48 pm

    Id be terrified of adopting an older child internationally just for this reason. RAD seems like a nightmare, like you see these homeless little angel faces but then when you bring them into your home and hope they’ll call you mom/dad they act like devils with no empathy and could kill people/animals without feeling anything. I feel like you’d have to have a lot of time, patience, money and energy to be willing to take in one of these wounded children and try to rehabilitate them. Those who do and know what they’re getting into are angels. I wish I knew more statistics about the percent of adopted children with RAD like how common it is, and how many of them recover. Its really sad to think that neglect can create a child with a deep seated fear of any affection or intimacy, one who believes they are born guilty/bad and no one cares about them and the world is against them. But I hear it is possible, with a lot of assertive structure and control, people have been successful in rewiring the RAD child’s brain so they can develop attached relationships, and understand feelings and love.

  8. by Staci

    On February 6, 2013 at 12:27 am

    I adopted a little boy at age 6 who has RAD. It has been a very long road, and we continue to fight an uphill battle, but it is worth it. My son is amazing, loving, bright, and endearing. I am a nurse, and it took many hours of research, tears, counseling, and lots(tons and tons) of structure to learn how to help my sweet boy. He continues to have difficulty at school, but the progress has been worth every hardship…just thought you all would like to hear something positive. You know that RAD is preventable…it is also treatable!

  9. by Ginny

    On March 4, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    My husband and I adopted a little six year old girl from Russia. We noticed RAD characteristics within a few months after her adoption. We tried to get help for her and our family almost immediately. However the psychologist we saw insisted that only consequences would change her behavior. After a year we quit therapy after no results.

    She is now in her teens. She has hurt our animals and shows little empathy for others. At age 14 she started to sneak boys into our house late at night in order to have sex. She does not know what a real relationship is like. She bullies, manipulates and threatens to get what she thinks she needs. She discards friends easily when they no longer meet her needs. She has stolen alcohol and taken it to school to share with others. She has been in residential therapy and is currently at home but sees a therapist twice a week. DBT therapty has helped some, but she continues to struggle. Her feelings are so strong that she self harms and continues to struggle with a eating disorder. I have a hard time imagining a good future for her.

    It is a hard to parent someone that does not have normal emotional responses. Please be careful before you adopt. Make sure that the child has had someone in their early childhood that took good care of them. Her current psychologist says that we will probably had to support her for the rest of her life. It is so sad to keep giving and loving a child that may never be able to recipicate the same feelings.

  10. by TravelGirl

    On May 1, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this website. My husband and I are foster parents and are currently considering adopting a sibling group of 3–8 yr girl, twin boys age 5. We have had them in our home for 15 months and have recently been informed by their therapist that they all suffer from RAD. I had no idea RAD could cause so much heartache for both the adoptive parents and the child that suffers within. I intend to find more information.