In many faith-based families, the call to adopt a child is strong. These parents want to open their hearts and their homes to a child or teen in desperate need of a forever family.

Unfortunately, these adoption stories don’t always end with “happily ever after.” Some children are damaged by past abuse, emotional detachment and other mental health issues that can create an unnatural distance between the parent and the adopted child.

Called reactive attachment disorder (RAD), this is a rare but serious condition in which infants and young children don’t establish healthy bonds with parents or caregivers. While it can occur in any parent-child relationship, it is most common in adoptive families – especially in those with children adopted from Eastern European countries that still use orphanages and other facilities to provide institutional care to mass numbers of unwanted children.

A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused or orphaned. The disorder develops because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring attachments with others are never established in the critical formative years. This absence of human contact, kindness and positive social interaction with caring adults can permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurting the ability to establish future relationships.

Unfortunately, parents who adopt a child to “save” them from this unhealthy and unhappy atmosphere often find that the problems follow them home. Reactive attachment disorder is a condition that doesn’t disappear when the child is removed from the abusive environment.

Fortunately, with treatment, children can develop more stable and healthy relationships with caregivers and others. Safe and proven treatments for reactive attachment disorder include counseling and parent or caregiver education.

Reactive attachment disorder usually takes root before age 5, and may even begin when the child is still an infant. By the time the child reaches adolescence, she may have become an expert at self-isolation. Symptoms may include:

• Withdrawing from others
• Avoiding or dismissing comforting comments or gestures
• Acting aggressively toward peers
• Watching others closely but not engaging in social interaction
• Failing to ask for support or assistance
• Obvious and consistent awkwardness or discomfort
• Masking feelings of anger or distress
• Alcohol or drug abuse
• Self-harm behaviors, such as cutting

During the teen years, children with RAD continue to remain inhibited, or become dramatically uninhibited in their behaviors. Young people with inhibited behavior have no interest in forming attachments or meaningful relationship with anyone. They shun gestures of affection from family, and do not pursue normal romantic or dating relationships like their peers. They may socialize, but do not form close friendships or maintain an established group of friends.

Perhaps more alarming to parents is disinhibited behavior. These teens seek attention from virtually everyone, including strangers. They may frequently ask for help doing tasks, have inappropriately childish behavior or appear anxious without an obvious reason. They may flirt indiscriminately, appear over sexualized, and may exhibit age-inappropriate behavior toward peers or adults because they have difficulty relating normally to others.

If you recognize signs of RAD in your natural or adopted child, you need to seek help. Left untreated, RAD can result in controlling, aggressive or delinquent behaviors, and other lifelong challenges.

We have a depth of experience working with teens with reactive attachment disorder – and we can help your family recover, and reconnect. Don’t wait – contact Compass Rose Academy today.