Friday, April 04, 2008

Reactive attachment disorder

The Daily Mail has an article about a British family who adopted a beautiful 5-year-old only to discover, too late, that the girl was suffering from reactive attachment disorder.

RAD is a condition where children are unable to form close emotional bonds with anyone. They become experts at emotional manipulation, manufacturing outrage, warmth, and whatever other emotional behavior they need to get the desired response from people around them. It's a pretty difficult thing to cope with, especially when you don't get the support you need as the parents of the child -- which it looks like this family didn't get.

Honestly, that's where the trouble was. She should have been warned going in what to expect, given the support she needed right from the start, and when she encountered difficulties, there should have been a support team in place to give her the assistance she needed.

It's good to know that DYFS has caseworkers on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure a uniform standard of care for both parents and children.

Kids with RAD are difficult to reach, but it can be done, if they're reached in time. (Usually by the time they're 10.) There was an article in this past month's Reader's Digest about a Jewish family who adopted a boy from Eastern Europe with similar problems to those described here. The solution that they found worked was for the mother to spend a few months literally and continually no more than three feet away from her son, to forge the bond that he never had experienced before.

My nephew Ethan was a poster child for RAD. My brother and sister-in-law adopted him when he was 8 years old, not realizing at first what sort of problems he had. (He had spent his first eight years in foster care, in at least four different families, one of which had planned to adopt him until they had their own, biological child.)

Ethan did a lot of the stuff described in this article: being incredibly clumsy for attention, ultimately getting to the point that he would destroy walls, hardwood floors, windows and anything else he could to get a reaction; never expressing any warmth or positive emotion to his mother particularly; playing with matches in his bedroom; and finally really going nuts when his parents despite all odds ended up becoming pregnant.

I have no idea how they did it, but my brother and sister-in-law actually got through to him. He's got problems still, but their willingness to ignore his destructive rampages while he was on them (and then to make him help repair the damage), their steady and unending love, and probably even the birth of Hannah, really did change him. His dad and I no longer darkly joke "I'll see you at Ethan's trial," because at long last Ethan does have a conscience. He lacks a lot of motivation, but he's good with his hands, and he's discovered a real love of reading that probably will be his salvation.

The proximity of this news story with the feature in Reader's Digest, timewise if not geographywise, does ring a bell in the back of my head. I suspect some organization is trying to raise the general awareness of RAD in an effort to boost funding for research or to shame CPS organizations into providing more support for adoptive families in this situation, instead of hanging them out to dry or to punish them.

No comments: