Please click on the image above to watch Sally and Tim’s interview. This is the first of two segments of their story. Click here to watch/read the second half of their story.
When Sally and Tim Morris adopted their son Sammy from an orphanage in Ethiopia, they could understand his physical struggles. He has paralysis and spasticity in his arms and legs. However, the Morrises couldn’t physically see the barriers Sammy fought inside due to early abuse and neglect at that time.
Sammy’s walker and crutches allowed him to get around quite well. But it was reactive attachment disorder that left him stuck in other ways. No matter what his parents did, Sammy couldn’t attach to them emotionally.
Sammy wouldn’t allow Sally and Tim to parent him.
The Morrises quickly found that the traditional parenting they used for their two older biological children didn’t work for Sammy. The rewards and consequences model failed every time with him.
Nearly every request his teachers and parents asked of Sammy ended in a battle.
When asked to put his napkin on his lap, Sammy refused. So he didn’t eat for up to 20 hours. Sammy didn’t like his parents to tell him to turn off the television. So he fell to the floor, crawled under his bed for hours, and didn’t talk or eat for extended periods of time.
Even though they had gone to multiple therapists, Sammy’s behaviors only escalated with time. No amount of “good parenting” or love made a difference for Sammy.
Like many other parents, Tim and Sally sometimes took items away from Sammy as a form of discipline. Sammy, however, didn’t react the way their other children had in that situation—as a learning moment. Instead, Sammy would gather all of his remaining belongings and give them to his parents. “In other words he said, ‘Okay you can’t take anything away from me,’” said Tim. “…’because nothing matters to me.’”
Here’s why traditional parenting doesn’t work for kids with reactive attachment disorder:
1. Kids with RAD don’t trust others. Due to early abuse and neglect, these children learned early on to take care of themselves. They don’t allow their parents to care for them.
2. Kids with RAD need to control everything and everyone around them to feel safe. No matter the reward or consequence, children with RAD will not let go of control. To them, control equals survival.
3. Kids with RAD lack cause and effect thinking. Children who were abused or neglected before the age of five didn’t get opportunities to experience normal early child development. Therefore, they essentially are “stuck” in the developmental stage of a toddler. Similar to very young children, kids with RAD aren’t able to connect their behaviors with consequences.
Many of those raising children with RAD want so much to love and care for their children. Yet, their children simply can’t and won’t allow it.
When the Morrises brought Sammy home from Ethiopia, Tim tried to explain their love for and protection of Sammy in simple terms. “I said, ‘Okay Sammy, if a bear comes in the door, dad fights the bear. I’ll fight the bear’,” said Tim. “Sammy said, ‘No. I fight the bear.’”
While parents of kids with RAD try everything to get close to their children, others often unfairly judge them at the same time. Friends and family tell them to just love more or parent better. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.
Those raising children with RAD cannot do it alone. They need their friends and family to learn the realities of raising children with the disorder. They need support, not judgments. They need highly qualified attachment specialists to help the entire family. They definitely do not need yet another parenting book or class.
While we know so many parents feel hopeless, there IS hope out there. In fact, Sammy’s story is now a happy one. Please stay tuned next week…