Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adoption

Reactive Attachment Disorder in Adoption
I recently read the book, An Unlit Path by Deborah L. Hannah. I believe that her message needs to be shared, but first I want to share some background about my own experiences with adoption and abused children.

I hesitate to even write this article because I believe strongly in adoption. I don't want to scare away desperately needed potential adoptive parents. I also have the scars of living the first 15 years of my life with foster and adopted siblings who made life impossible. I need to share what I know so families know the risks inherent in adopting hurt children. I believe that Hannah's book can be a help to families in similar situations.

There are hundreds of thousands of children in foster care in this country. Many of them will need adoptive homes. There are many more children in orphanages in Russia and other countries who are just as desperate for homes. Many adoptions work well. I have 4 successfully adopted siblings and I love them all dearly. They are an integral part of my family and they are NOT the focus of this article. Facing infertility myself, I don't know if I have the courage to try to adopt an older child. My mother was orphaned young and I know that a caring adoptive family would have changed her life. I also know the unbelievable pain some attempted adoptions brought into my family. Some older kids thrive in adoptive homes. Some kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder heal and learn to be part of a family. Some do not.

Picture this:

* A teenage foster child threatens to strangle their foster mother with a telephone cord while her two young children lock themselves in a bedroom.

* A 10 year old sprinkles pesticide over the family dog's food.

* A young girl lights matches and drops them into a can of gasoline in the garage while her adoptive family goes about every day tasks - unaware of the danger.

* A 12 year old carefully places cherry pits, sliced raw carrots and hazelnuts on the floor where two crawling babies play. When confronted she says calmly, "I want them to choke to death. You love them more than you love me so I will kill them. You can't stop me. When they are dead you will love me."

These are things that actually happened in my family as my parents attempted to raise "difficult" children. We now know that these behaviors are typical of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), the technical term for children who fail to attach. For children who have been severely neglected or abused learning to love or be loved is often difficult. Learning to trust and open your heart to another is nearly impossible for some children. Devoid of a conscience or the ability to have any empathy, these children can become master manipulators and a few are extremely dangerous. Abusing parents and siblings as Hannah's adopted children did is typical for these kids.

Like an invisible handicap, this inability to develop emotional attachments can cripple a child emotionally. The most basic human needs to be a part of a community, a family, a relationship, becomes impossible for some badly wounded children. While there are some children who respond to therapy, some of these kids can not be healed. To someone who has not lived with a RAD child it seems impossible to believe that a child can be so broken as an infant that they are unable to heal no matter how much they are loved as they grow older.

Hannah is also a Christian and her faith that love could conquer all is so familiar. Everything in me says that love should be able to heal all wounds - but the reality I have lived is simply that some kids don't get fixed. When these broken hearts knit together again it somehow happens all wrong. Instead of learning to enjoy being loved they fight it and will even go to extreme lengths to avoid caring about others or letting others love them. Attachment parenting along with knowledgeable therapy can help to make a huge difference for the kids who can be helped. Some kids just won't let anyone reach them.

Deborah Hannah and her family adopted 5 children and fostered 9 more. Her family went through very similar expereinces to those of my family and other families I know attachment disordered children. Families of RAD children and teens will recognize life with hideous false accusations, abuse of other family members, physical threats, lying social workers, an underfunded system that has no resources to help familes with RAD kids, and the aching desire to just know how to help this child you love and fear.

Hannah does an excellent job of pulling you into her world. If you are considering adoption of an older child you will want to read this book as well as the others recommended below to prepare yourself for possible problems. If you have a RAD child on your hands, this book will make you feel much less alone. Explaining life with a RAD to someone with normal kids feels much like explaining war to someone with no combat experience. You just don't know what it is like to cross a mine field until you have done it. Watching a few war movies does not prepare you for the sound of exploding bombs falling around you.

Hannah is careful to point out that she believes in adoption as long as everyone is well informed and families get the support and informtion they need. A painful but important read for anyone dealing with RAD.

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