I feel like I don't know much about Reactive Attachment Disorder, but then again, I realize that I must because I have been living with it for 15 months. I really don't like labels, and I think they are over-used. I noticed this when I worked in Detroit Public School and every child was labeled ADHD. In addition, at the residential treatment facility, every girl was medicated for some "mental health" disorder.
However, in my opinion, RAD is not a "disorder" that an adopted child either gets or does not get diagnosed with. I think that the symptoms descriptive of RAD are a REACTION that every adopted child has to some degree. Now, some obviously have RAD to a greater degree than others. But honestly, can a child go through what an adoptive child goes through and not have signs and symptoms of RAD--I am clearly not referring to those children adopted from birth.
I read and re-read the criteria for RAD and didn't think Ruthie displayed any of symptoms. She is affectionate and makes great eye-contact. She had never tantrumed, screamed, hurt others or animals, or been defiant. I really just thought she was a child who was developmentally delayed, needed to learn to follow rules, and that she was just really forgetful. I have since learned that her "developmental delays" are an act, that "forgetfulness" IS a symptom of RAD, and both of these things lead to behaviors which she does ON PURPOSE to push me away, make me angry, and try to make me push HER away. It is almost as if she knows what my buttons are and she enjoys pushing them.
Here is a classic example: Ruthie has been taught to buckle her seat belt, which she has done wonderfully for months. Then one day, we are out grocery shopping and the kids did a great job. I had a pack of gum and told them that once they were all buckled in they could get their piece of gum. Guess what?? Ruthie can't buckle herself in. She is actually turning the buckle perpendicular to the metal piece into which the buckle inserts. Cameron and I look at each other in confusion and wait patiently. I began to encourage her. The time ticks by as we wait, smiling, knowing she can do it. She begins to panic and cry. I remind her that a piece of gum is waiting. I begin to really think she can't do it. She is upset and cannot figure it out, but I am confused, knowing she has done it for MONTHS with no problems. I finally buckle her in and hand her the gum. Since that day, she has not had a problem. Cameron and I wonder what was going on? Why couldn't she do it? She must NOT have been able to do it. But guess what? Later, much later--like weeks later, Ruthie confesses she did it on purpose. WHAT?! WHY? WHY? WHY? I want to ask. But, if you do ask, you will get this answer, "I don't know," and you know what, I am beginning to believe her. I don't know if she knows why. She risked not getting a piece of gum. She even cried in her panic of not being able to do it, but the thing is SHE DID IT ON PURPOSE!
That is RAD. That is jut one of HUNDREDS of examples of what we go through on a daily basis. I am not exaggerating. For a year, I thought Ruthie was learning disabled. I thought something was wrong with her memory. I thought she needed to be tested for IQ. My eyes have been opened to the reality of what is going on and it scares me more than having a child who is "slow" because instead of putting her in a special class or something, I am in the midst of a battle for control. These defenses are in place to keep me away. It works, though. It does want you to give up. It is hard.
I have heard other adoptive parents say that they are having a difficult time attaching to their adopted child. They think something is wrong with them that they don't like their child. They hate themselves and think they are the most evil person. You know what? That is a sign of RAD. It is the child working to make you not like them, to make themselves unlovable, to make you angry, and to push you away so that you WON'T attach to them. It really works. They are experts at it.
So, how do you fight this? How do you attach to a child who does not want you to attach? To a child who enjoys--for some reason I can't understand or explain--seeing you get upset, angry, have a negative reaction? By not giving it to them! You fight it with the MOST POWERFUL thing in the world: LOVE. If Ruthie didn't do her chore before, I would give her an extra one. She would take FOREVER--literally hours to do one little thing. I thought this was her. Now, I just say to her, "It looks like you don't want to do your chore today (as she sweeps the same spot for the 10th time). Okay, why don't you go play? I will do it for you because I love you so much!", and then I grab the broom and do it for her--without anger and with a smile. Do you know what Ruthie does? Not every time, but most times, she cries. Sometimes she will now even come and confess to me she lied that she did things on purpose--like "forgetting" to close the rabbit cage overnight, putting her shoes on the wrong feet, etc. When she "can't" zip her coat when she could for the past 3 months, I no longer say, "Come outside when you zip your coat. We are all going to play," because that doesn't work. She will sit inside for over an hour and cry "trying" to zip her coat. And then I used to second-guess myself and think "What if she can't zip her coat and I am letting her sit there and cry?" or feel myself get angry as I think, "This is a game, you do zip it all the time!" Instead, I take the battle away, kneel down and smile and say, "I will zip it for you, because I love you SO much." Battle done. Now, honestly, usually she will pick a battle right away again--leave the door open, the light on, make her shoe fall off, etc. and I have to patiently take away the battle by doing it for her and telling her I love her. It makes her cry real tears as she sees my love, feels my love, as she loses the battle to push me away and make me angry.
RAD is about a battle--the battle is what the child uses to push you away. Some children uses toileting, food, lying, school, clothing, medical complaints. One thing Ruthie did was complain about every little tiny cut, but then she broke her collar bone and didn't tell anyone for 2 days! That is not normal! Some children are attached to food so much and are constantly "hungry". Control. It is a fight for control. You HAVE to take control back in a loving way, in such a way that there is NO battle. It is not a battle for obedience, it is a battle to win a place in their hearts, their trust. Now, what adopted child wouldn't do this on some level? Tell me who wouldn't have RAD if they had gone through abandonment and rejection? What child comes out of that "normal"? I wouldn't! I would test that love, that parent, to make sure that they were "for real". Wouldn't you? But, you HAVE to be in control--it may seem "mean" that you have such a tight-fist of control over a child when your biological children have more choices, but that comes with time. Until attachment happens, you have to almost FORCE them to know that they CAN trust you--that you hold all the cards, but you aren't a tyrant. You make all the decisions, but you are the most loving person in the whole world even when you are spit at in the face. Just like Jesus.
RAD? A disorder? I don't think of it that way--it is not as if something "went wrong" in that child. No, they are acting in a "normal" way for what they have been through. It is not a disorder, it is a REACTION that is normal for a child who has been rejected, unloved, abandoned, unwanted, and abused. Think you won't have any "attachment" issues when you adopt? I would say EXPECT it because what child WOULDN'T react when they have been through so much?? What child would fall into your arms and say "Thank you for adopting me and rescuing me! I love you so much!" I just don't think there are very many kids who do that. I think most are scared, angry, hurt and lonely and they are going to test to make sure the branch of the new family tree they are sitting on is not going to break, but can really hold their weight.
I am telling you, adoption is a ministry. It is awesome. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done, but man, as I have said so many times before: It is worth it. You may be in the midst of attachment issues now and you are weary: I say persevere. Cry out to God. Pray. You may be considering adoption: I say go for it, but expect it to be difficult. You may be scared to adopt after reading about all these attachment issues: I say don't be scared--what God calls you to He will equip you for. You will grow, stretch, be pruned, sanctified. It hurts. It is SO stinkin' hard to die to yourself as you look into the face of a child who you know is lying to you bold-faced and say "It's okay. I love you SO much." But, isn't that the goal of this life-to become more like Christ? Who said becoming like Jesus would be easy?
In Christ, Laura