Please click on the image above to watch Angie’s interview. This is the third segment of the series. To catch up, please click here.
Angie was exhausted. As a widow with five sons—one on the moderate to severe end of the reactive attachment disorder spectrum—she was up most of the night to keep her kids safe. Angie watched the cameras in her home diligently, making sure *Joe didn’t hurt himself or her other four boys. She didn’t know what else to do at the time—no one seemed to be able to help her, particularly the professionals she turned to for assistance.
When Joe was hospitalized for the third time, Angie knew she couldn’t have him back in the home and keep her family safe. She knew he’d return from the hospital just as destructive as when he had left. The hospital was a place for temporary safekeeping, not real treatment. “I realized that there are so many opportunities along the care path…where kids [with reactive attachment disorder] are mislabeled, misdiagnosed, highly misunderstood, and that inappropriate treatment can cause further damage,” said Angie.
Where the lack of knowledge about reactive attachment disorder lies
Angie’s experience as a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is common, unfortunately. Parents simply don’t have the resources required to help their children with RAD. There’s “a severe lack of qualified professionals,” said Angie. Many clinicians struggle to diagnose and work with clients with early trauma backgrounds. Much of the problem stems from the lack of information provided to graduate students studying to become clinicians. Many professors skim over the topic of RAD within the context of larger topics. As a result, clinicians often have limited information about RAD from graduate school and don’t have adequate knowledge to diagnose the disorder in practice.
To make matters worse, the standard resource in which clinicians rely upon—The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association—also lacks sufficient information. The symptoms of RAD in the DSM-5 aren’t comprehensive. After clinicians refer to the DSM-5, they often miss common red flags from clients with RAD or misdiagnose the disorder for something else, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Even when clinicians do recognize and diagnose a child with RAD, many have trouble working with such clients effectively. Given the nature of their disorder, children with RAD often manipulate their clinicians and blame their parents for all of their problems. Many clinicians mistake parents as the sole culprit of their children’s struggles and therefore miss addressing core issues. In the end, many clinicians cultivate further problems within families and make attachment even more difficult.
How to find (not teach) good clinicians
Like many other parents, Angie spent a lot of time attempting to educate the professionals tasked with helping her child—an overwhelming, frustrating, and time-consuming task. Like many parents, she felt bewildered by the lack of knowledge about RAD on behalf of the clinicians who cared for her son. “As a parent [of a child with reactive attachment disorder], you’re desperate for a professional to look at you and say, ‘I get it.’”
The clinicians who are able to make real differences for families battling RAD have a true passion for the field. Qualified therapists for children with RAD are often clinicians who—
- Have taken what they learned about RAD in graduate school and expanded upon that knowledge with great depth
- Have sought the guidance and mentoring from other clinicians specialized in RAD
- Have dedicated their careers to learning all the nuances of the disorder by working closely and regularly with kids with RAD
- Can spot the subtle ways kids with RAD manipulate others just as well as their parents can, if not better
- Acknowledges that the whole family unit struggles with a child’s early trauma and knows that healthy parents are a vital part of the child’s treatment
When parents find a qualified RAD clinician, they don’t have to teach them anything. Good RAD clinicians stand beside, support, and educate emotionally healthy parents—as it should be. (Click here for 6 questions to find a qualified therapist for your child with reactive attachment disorder).
“Finally, someone understands.”
One day, Angie finally had the conversation she’d longed for with someone who finally “got it”.
When Angie called the Institute for Attachment and Child Development (IACD) and spoke with Executive Director Forrest Lien, she felt heard and understood for the first time in her journey to help her son. “I’ll never forget how that felt physically, to exhale and say, ‘Finally. Somebody understands where my child’s trauma is coming from and understands a different way to approach it.’”
Angie began filling out the extensive IACD intake packet after her conversation with Forrest, even before she had the financial resources to pay for the program. “How in the world is a widow with five kids on Medicaid ever going to afford to give my child the best treatment options? There was no question that I didn’t have the resources at my disposal,” said Angie. Yet, she felt compelled to move forward.
After reviewing Angie’s extensive intake packet for several days, Forrest called Angie back. “I really believe we can help him,” he said. Angie sighed with relief and then began tackling the next battle so many parents of kids with RAD face—affording effective treatment.
*name changed to protect identity