Top 10 Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Way back in the beginning of writing this blog, I posted the DSM-IV criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder. But that was a long time ago and in psychology speak. So I thought it would be helpful to do a more plain spoken list of what behaviors children with RAD exhibit.

Kiddos with RAD don’t even know most of the time they are doing some of the things they do. It’s all reaction to the very early trauma they suffered and how they protect themselves now from further hurt. Here are some signs your kiddo might display:

  • Failure to smile and avoids eye contact – This may make your child seem like they are angry all the time but it is part of the resistance to connection. They aren’t unhappy but they are constantly stressed and on edge. So it is hard to ever relax.
  • Becomes agitated when adults try to comfort them – They may recoil when they are upset and an adult tries to hug them or comfort them. They don’t want to think of a caregiver as someone they can depend on or someone who will make them feel better. They don’t trust anyone and they resist any attempt to count on someone for assistance.
  • Doesn’t seem to notice when parents or caregivers leave them – Separation anxiety is something that parents face regularly with their children. RAD kiddos don’t notice or care when their caregivers leave because they don’t see them as needed. The connection and bond isn’t there so there is no fear they won’t return, no anxiety about who will care for them.
  • Spends a lot of time rocking or comforting themselves – RAD kiddos firmly believe they can only count on themselves. They are control freaks. They develop incredible skills in self-soothing because they do not trust that anyone else can do it for them.
  • When distressed, they may calm down more quickly without the attention of an adult – You’d think an adult would be helpful when a child is upset but for RAD kiddos it’s anything but. An adult or caregiver getting in their face most times will only make it worse. They have learned coping strategies from their past traumas and they know how to help themselves.
  • Unaffected by the movements of others – RAD kiddos tend to seem very stand offish. They do not want other people in their lives. They do not feel that people affect them no matter how close the relationship. So they will not usually be rattled at all by what other people do.
  • Doesn’t reach out to be picked up – Because RAD kiddos don’t need affection they will not seek it out. For parents that can be one of the most heartbreaking aspects of having a RAD kiddo. It isn’t something they will seek from any adult in their life, no matter how close the relationship.
  • Isn’t interested in playing interactive games or playing with toys – Group games like tag or hide and seek will not be popular with RAD kiddos. They are not great at playing with toys that are “group” toys. Because they aren’t good “joiners” this isn’t something they will ever be drawn to.
  • Cries Inconsolably – Because RAD kiddos are not able to process their emotions in a healthy way, sometimes when they begin crying, the tears won’t stop. And because they won’t allow anyone to help them be consoled, getting a handle on their emotions is even harder.
  • Withdrawn Appearance – There is often a mix-up between RAD and autism. RAD children are emotionally and developmentally stunted in a way that mimics autism. They might appear not to be “with it” to what’s going on around them. Again, it’s not that they are unaware, it’s just that they are in a constant mode of protection.

Hopefully this can be a reference guide for friends and family to understand why your child may not look or act like they might expect them to. And knowing may help in not judging your RAD kiddo unfairly. I would love to hear your comments on what you see with your children and which of these behaviors have caused you the most stress!

Until next time,

Shannon