There are special needs parents as a whole and then there are especially unique special needs parents—those raising children with reactive attachment disorder. These parents are in the trenches along with all of the other special needs parents. That is, they join the special needs world as they fight the system, search online for clinicians that really know about their children’s special needs, and sit through endless IEP meetings. That’s just the beginning.
There’s one detail that differentiates those raising children with reactive attachment disorder from the rest of the special needs parenting world, however. That is, “RAD parents” authentically question their own sanity. This is not a joke or a nod to the lack of sleep and support all special needs parents experience. Those raising children with reactive attachment disorder often cry in desperation and say, “I think I’m going crazy”. And they truly mean it.
Parents of RAD children feel like they are “going crazy” because parents, community members, and even extended family members do not see the same behaviors from their children as they do. With their parent(s), children with RAD often:
- physically threaten or actually harm parents and siblings
- shout profanities at their parents frequently
- steal from their parents’ purses, wallets, etc.
- regularly lie to their parents
- make false allegations against their parents
When parents of kids with RAD reach out to friends and family for much-needed support, no one understands. That’s because the children present a completely different character to the rest of the world. Children with RAD have a keen ability to manipulate other people into believing that they are sweet-natured and well-mannered children. This is especially true with extended family members that don’t spend a lot of time with the children. It even happens frequently between couples—the child acts differently with one parent than the other.
Rather than get support from others, parents of kids with RAD get odd looks. People tell them that they’re overreacting, are too harsh on their kids, or need counseling and parenting classes.
Here’s an example—
Jill’s son gives his dad a big hug and tells him to have a great day as he leaves for work. The dad beams at his son and tells him they will throw the ball when he gets home. Jill’s son gives his dad another big hug. When the dad leaves for work, the child takes a completely different turn. When Jill asks him to do the dishes before they start their homeschooling lessons for the day, he calls her a profane name and throws a glass at her head. Luckily, he missed again that day. When her husband gets home, she tells him about the day. She’s crying. Even though she can’t believe it herself, she tells him that she feels afraid of their child. Her husband sighs in frustration and tells her, once again, that he’s never seen such behavior from their child. He suggests that perhaps she should “go see someone”. Jill wonders why her son only acts out with her and no one else. She wonders if it really is her.
This is when the “crazy feelings” come in. Sadly, many parents experience post-traumatic stress disorder and feel detached from others, out of control emotionally, helpless, hyper-vigilant, and depressed. They feel completley alone and scared.
Parents of kids with RAD are not crazy
Parents of kids with RAD are not crazy. Their children really do act much differently with them than with others. The children do so out of a fear-based survival mechanism learned from early abuse and neglect. They manipulate their surroundings to feel safe and in control, get their needs met on their terms in any way they can, and push away the people who get the closest to them.
Many parents begin parenting children with reactive attachment disorder with a full heart, great hopes, and much to give. Sadly, so many are just struggling to hang on shortly after their parenting journey with their children begins. They need people to surround, support, and believe in them.
Neither love, “good parenting”, nor time will “fix” reactive attachment disorder. If you are raising a child with RAD, we urge you to seek family therapy from a highly-qualified RAD therapist. We know that you’re doing the best you can. Just like all special-needs parents, however, you can’t do it alone.