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Reaction Attachment Disorder

Reactive attachment disorder is associated with behavior problems and can have severe effects on future relationships during adulthood. Empirical research has demonstrated the various factors that result in the disorder. The symptoms of the disorder in infants and adults have also been discussed from empirical data. RAD can commence in childhood due to factors such as neglect, abuse or other genetic and environmental factors, and can progress to adolescence and adulthood and completely interfere with relationships. The trauma associated with issues such as abuse and neglect can make the treatment difficult especially for the foster parents. In adulthood, the disorder can either result in people who have an Ego with leadership abilities or people who are badly socialized and difficult to deal with. Therapeutically, models that are based on theories such as the attachment theory have been articulated through research. There is also a possibility of theoretical models like those advocating for a change of name and category in an effort to address the effects of the disorder on adult relationships. Analysis of field data from a number of studies reveals that RAD victims respond to the various intervention models in different ways.


This is a severe uncommon disorder that affects children. The disorder is characterized by poor or inappropriate social interactions or excessive interactions depicted by children even with strangers. In most cases, the child appears to be disturbed in terms of making the normal social interactions from all contexts. During early childhood, it is expected that the child develops attachments to the caregiver with the normal socialization models. The caregiver in this case could even be the mother or any other person charged with the responsibility of taking care of the child. However, with the disorder, such an attachment is not achieved because of a number of factors ranging from child abuse, neglect, genetic, environment or even separation from the child in the early stages of development. (Cappelletty, Brown,& Shumate,2005).

Adults who suffered from RAD In their childhood have social interaction models that appear to be grossly disturbed and can be the main cause of their relationship building problems later on in life. The symptoms of the disorder vary from behavior problems to socialization problems as depicted by researchers. (Fairchild, 2006).


Behavior problems

Children with RAD are clearly noticed with aggressive and oppositional behaviors at their young age. Most research findings have demonstrated that RAD children are not affectionate to their parents and they lack eye contact on parents. Such children can be indiscriminately attracted to strangers unlike in the normal cases.

They also tend to be very destructive to their self and other kids. For instance, they are always in trouble and prone to accidents than other children.

In most cases, they would want to be given more attention than anybody else. They are also prone to vices such as stealing and lying. Such can tell lies even for the obvious things.

Evidence from empirical studies also indicates that RAD children often like asking nonsense and annoying questions to their friends and their caretakers.

In terms of knowledge and learning, researchers have indicated that the children normally lag behind in language and other cognitive skills.

In cases where the children have been left with pets and other animals, they have tended to display a cruel behavior towards the animals. From empirical studies, children with RAD display a variety of symptoms that are unusual and clearly reflect their disturbed attachments. (Shaw & Paez,2007).

Negative outcomes of the disorder

Undesirable behaviors are part and parcel of children who have Reaction Attachment Disorder. In some cases, the adolescents and adults have depicted erratic mood swings. The unpredictable behavior can be in the form of clinging to hanging and swearing. Most of them are unapproachable and have a bad attitude towards other people. In studies where the children with the disorder have been assessed, the results have shown that the children stated concerns about being mad and crazy. In some cases, psychiatric analysis has pointed out that the child here's a voice instructing to do a particular undesirable activity. Research has also shown evidence of children not showing affection to their parents as a result of the disorder. Bad behaviors such as stealing unnecessarily and lying can be quite a common thing amongst the people with RAD hence they cannot sustain a firm relationship that is founded on mutual trust and faithfulness. (Schechter & Willheim,2009).

Delayed social and cognitive development

Children with Reaction Attachment Disorder can experience delayed development in their cognitive abilities. In most cases, the children find difficulties and are completely unable to accomplish cognitive tasks assigned to them in school or by the caregivers. Delayed cognitive development can be indicated in such cases with mild mental retardation. In terms of social development affected children can depict immature socialization and inappropriate behaviors. The behavior of the children can also be indiscriminate social interaction with the lack of abilities to regulate emotions such as anger. The children can also show the lack of attention and concentration while in the company of caregivers and other children. Language deficiency is also associated with the children with the disorder. Affected children can experience difficulties in receptive and expressive skills. The child may be unable to undertake comprehension and articulation exercises. (Schwartz, Davis & Andrew,2006).

Poor personal relations

Adults who have been affected with the disorder, find it difficult to socialize and cope with their colleagues and partners. Research studies have cited things like bad eating habits, lack of conscience and bad peer relationships to be contributing towards the difficulty in forming relationships with strangers. They always ask nonsensical questions and argue with their partners. They, therefore, experience constant fighting in their relationships.

Positive outcomes

The interruptive and controlling behavior of children with Reaction Attachment Disorder can be made useful in terms of leadership. This is in light of the fact that they have tendencies of believing that they are more powerful than the rest. The children, therefore, do not find it comfortable to be led or influenced by others. In their ability to have control over what others are doing, RAD children can end up being chosen as young leaders. This is also achieved positively because they are able to make others focus on what they do. By this, they easily manage to influence and lead others. In future, such an ability can grow and develop into future leaders in business and in the corporate world.

Growing up and developing independently is a positive outcome of RAD. In most cases, children develop an attachment to their parents at a very tender age. Most of them are unable to live independently without the affection from the parents. With or without parents, RAD children would still continue living and achieve education and other important goals. The reduced attachment and dependency on parents should, therefore, be viewed as a strength because the children cannot break down in case something happened to the caregivers. In future, such children could also develop into powerful people in the society who are self-driven and highly motivated. A good historical example was provided by Adolf Hitler who suffered the disorder in his early childhood.

The ability of the RAD children to depend on themselves is a very important positive outcome. This is because they can easily confront the challenges that come in their way without involving other children or caregivers. This can make such children develop talents and other skills that can benefit them in their future lives. For instance, independent thought and decision making can be greatly developed in such children more than their counterparts who are so much dependent on caregivers and colleagues.

Causes of Reaction Attachment Disorder (RAD).

Child abuse

Abuse has become a common threat amongst young children and it has been blamed by most researchers to be a cause of this severe disorder. Abuse can be physical, emotional and even sexual. Psychologists argue that when the child is subjected to abuse in any form, the risk of developing an attachment disorder is very high. In most cases, a child who have been subjected to abuse by their caregivers, siblings or parents often are impulsive towards the people who caused the problem. Later own this can be transferred to other people hence a reaction attachment disorder. (Fairchild, 2006).


In normal situations, it is expected that a parent should take care of the child to ensure that all the needs are met as the child undergoes growth and development. Child neglect is a common problem among teenage mothers and other cases. Research has indicated that children who have been neglected lack the love and affection of parents or primary caregivers. The children struggle on their own and they fail to develop the necessary attachment to their parents. In such cases, the children are forced to socialize on their own and this can greatly interfere with their different aspects of development.

In some cases, the symptoms of the disorder have been noticed in children who have been separated from the primary caregivers. If the mother was the source of primary care for the child when the mother is separated from the child due to factors such as death or any other separation, the child might fail to initiate attachments with other people. This has been mentioned by sociologists and they argue that it is a common case during early adolescence.

Foster parents who have adopted children who have pasts full of abuse and neglect have experienced behaviors in the children that are associated with the disorder. The most common behavior in the aggressive behavior that has been witnessed by most of the foster parents. (Guttmann-Steinmetz & Crowell, 2006).

The genetic constitution of the infant

The genetic constitution of the child can also predispose the child to RAD. This is still under the aspects of poor maternal care and its impact on the child's development. Infants are normally born with different genetic profiles some which can result in the attachment and behavior disorders. There is a strong growing body of evidence from animal and clinical studies that suggest that the infant's genetic constitution is very important in the reaction towards pathogenic environments. In the genetic makeup of the child, there are genes that are in charge or releasing the neuronal hormones that shape the child's attachments to the mother or primary caregiver. From this point of view, it is more likely that some children become susceptible to disturbed attachment depending on the nature of their genes. In light of this issue, several genes have been cited to have an effect on attachment and detachment of the child. For instance, vasopressin and serotoninergic have been implicated in studies of attachment disorders. (Hardy, 2007)

Maternal Ambivalence

This involves the various reactions and processes the expectant mothers go through which might affect the developing child. It is vital to mention that in some communities, cultures can exert a lot of pressure on the mother. The way the mother responds to the cultural pressures determines the risk to attachment disorders. In some cases, the mother is supposed to deal with stressful situations such as uncooperative husbands or separation issues and they all affect the relationship with the child. In cases where mothers have responded with mixed reactions on the child chances of forming stronger ties with the child even after birth become slim hence making the child to develop RAD symptoms. (Hardy, 2007)


A number of studies have pointed out the role played by poor motherhood in the occurrence of RAD in infants. It is vital to mention that emotional and cognitive aspects of the mother can predispose the child to the attachment disorder. There are studies which have been done on primate mothers have indicated that mothers have the potential of influencing the future behavior of their children in relation to the disorder. Specifically, they have concluded that nonhuman mothers who were abused at infant stage are more likely to abuse their children hence leading to the development of the disorder in their off springs. This was observed in both the children raised by their biological mothers as well as those raised by their nonbiological mothers. Maternal anxiety and other emotions in relation to the bad behavior of the child has also been indicated by research to affect the child. Children who have behavior problems and are difficult to manage can trigger anxiety amongst mothers and if it is not handled carefully, it can result in the disturbed attachment in the infants of 4 years.

The goodness of fit in the mother's environment has also been associated with triggering factors of the disorder. Sociologists argue that the mother has to be well equipped with the right attitudes and skills that can control the external environment of the child. This is applicable to infants who are unresponsive and quiet and also those who are irritable and repulsive. With such a control, the mother is able to reduce the risk of the environment in triggering symptoms of the disorder. (Hardy, 2007)


Therapy and management of reaction attachment disorder require a lot of patience from the people involved. An immediate success upon commencement of the therapy should not be anticipated. Infants and adolescents are often oppositional and aggressive and can test the limits of external controls and rules. The therapists must, therefore, be prepared for little appreciation from the patients while at the same time expects the negative feedback in terms of the behavior of the patients. (Hoffman, Marvin, Cooper & Powell, 2006).

Empirical studies have identified various treatments for reactive attachment disorder. One of the most common strategies has been psychotherapy and has taken different dimensions while utilizing theories such as that of attachment. Becker-Weidman has articulated the Dyadic development psychotherapy. The researcher argues that symptoms of the disorder have declined to a great extent in cases where the method has been applied effectively. The therapy is based on the attachment theory and it is founded on the premise that the current situation of the child is the most essential in reducing the symptoms while at the same time the experiences of the child should be looked into. Building a relationship with the child is a key aspect of this treatment. The proponent argues that it is through the knowledge of the child's background and experiences that workable relationships can be built with the caregiver. In an environment where there is a safety of the child, the therapist models healthy attachment modes. The RAD child is given a chance to re-experience the traumatic situations and in the event, new feelings are triggered and expressed. (Becker-Weidman, 2006).

Cycle of security therapy

This is a strategy that uses the secure and nonsecure attachment designs. The process is led by a therapist who addresses the children and the caregivers. One of the goals of the therapy is to develop a secure working environment for the children and the caregiver. The goal then shifts to the attention and sensitivity and responsibility that looks into the attachment needs of the child. The ability to recognize the verbal and non-verbal cues is enhanced by the methods. (Hoffman, Marvin, Cooper & Powell, 2006).

Another therapy that has been put forward through empirical research is known an eye desensitization and reprocessing. Such a therapy in founded on the assumption that traumatic episodes are trapped rather than processed by the brain. Each and every aspect of the negative experiences continue to be reactivated every now and then and they have an impact on the victim of the disorder. Children who suffered abuse and neglect continue to visualize these bad experiences and it interferes with their abilities to form relationships with their caregivers. This therapy has the potential of diminishing the unfortunate experiences of abuse and neglect and replaces them with positive feelings such as those of happiness and hope. The RAD infants are therefore able to continue with a normal life that is full of excitement and positive attitude towards others hence attachments. (Newman, 2007).

Medications for other conditions that might be affecting the child with RAD has also shown positive results according to empirical research. Studies have continued to point that conditions such as anxiety and depression might be very influential towards the behavior of adolescents. In cases where these conditions have been kept at bay, reactive attachment disorder symptoms have reduced tremendously.


Individual psychological counseling can be of great help to children suffering from the attachment disorder. In this case, the therapist who can be the parent or caregiver should seek psychological counseling on how to bring back attachment relations with the affected child. The caretaker can also attend the counseling sessions with the affected child for the psychologists to have a first- hand experience with the patient. Empirical studies have shown that RAD children who are given medicine by the psychologists would show diminishing behavior problems with application of therapy. In these studies, the patients were enrolled in a three-year program. During the three years counseling was applied and it resulted in positive results with changed behavior in the children. Specifically, the patients developed attachments with their adopted mothers and they showed a diminishing trend in the oppositional and aggressive behavior. (Haggard & Hazan, 2006).

Play therapy

This form of therapy makes use of a number of important aspects in forming attachments between the caregiver and the child. The balance of structure, nurturance, and play are key in this case in the formation of attachments. As recorded by Weir (2007), modifying therapy is a crucial step towards helping the child with attachment problems. The approach is applicable to children of up to 12 years. The sessions are designed to last for one hour per week and should last between 10 to 20 weeks. The facets that are key towards better attachments include structure, challenge, stimulation and nurturing as mentioned by Pzybylo (2002). Structure in therapy refers to the groundwork in which times rules are set and reviewed for the sake of establishing the structure. The challenge pertains to the scenario where the participation of parents and children is required whether they like it or not. Participation of these two important stakeholders ensures that the required tasks are completed asset to realize the objectives. Engagement has to be undertaken in the therapy so as to attract the children and ensure they are in the process of changing their behavior. Nurturing has been considered to be a very important aspect of play therapy by the research. It is through nurturing that the desirable bonds are established between the caregiver and the child. A sense of security is very essential for the child. Empirical research had provided evidence that affirms that the more secure the environment formed by the caregiver, the stronger the attachments that are established between the child and the caregiver. (Newman, 2007).


Reactive attachment disorder manifests itself in different behavior problems and has an impact on the relationships between infants and their caregivers. It is vital to understand the symptoms of the disorder before choosing the appropriate therapy. Empirical research has shown the success that has been achieved by various treatment methods that have been discussed in the paper.