RAD Disinhibited - It's Real

If you know him, you will almost certainly love him.  That is his charm.  It is also his best honed survival tactic.

All parents who have been licensed as foster parents or adoptive parents within the last 20 years sat through multiple training courses and at some time during those classes we heard the term RAD - Reactive Attachment Disorder tossed out.  For most it sounded terrifying and was filed away into the deep recesses of their mind with a mental post-it note of "I won't be needing this one" firmly attached.  We were that couple too.  Don't worry.  Don't judge.  It's real life.  Moving on.

A bit over 5 years ago we met a sibling group that God had determined would one day become our children.  They were an exhausting, delightful ball of energy and light that burst into our lives in the same way that a meteor shatters through the atmosphere.  I won't recount their story here, but rather I will get to the point.

One of them has RAD Disinhibited type.  I should have known it from the first week, but I was overwhelmed.  Knowing earlier would not have changed anything.  I love him.  I have been charmed by him, and I have watched him charm others.  He is a survivor with great skills.  It is likely that he will have greatness attached to him as an adult.  My fear is that he will never truly, deeply, without reservation ever love another.  He will always have a back-up plan and a way out.  I understand this little guy in ways I wish I did not.  I am his Mom because God uses everything for His good.  (see Romans 8:28).

The first sign was our first trip to the local park when this little guy that I had met only days before climbed onto the lap of a complete stranger, kissed her full on the lips and asked if she would be his new mommy and then wrapped his arms around her neck and refused to let go.  That poor woman.  She had her hands straight out to the sides in protest, and I'm sure was fearful of what someone might do or say.  I rushed over, gathered him up and quickly explained that he had just come to live with us and we were working on learning some rules.

These are rules that most parents don't ever teach.  Most parents don't have to teach their children that it isn't good to ask strangers to be their parents.  Most parents don't have to explain that hugs, laps and kisses are for family.  These are boundaries that are hard wired for most toddlers.  Even in foster care children are usually slow to trust and reserved with their hugs.

Our first 9 months was easy with him.  He was a people pleaser.  He had found a home and if he played his cards right could stay here while he came up with the next plan.  The problem was that I didn't know he was planning anything.

Standard protocol had him in Play Therapy where we first started to see his back-up plan unfolding.  As a trained professional even his therapist was slow to notice it.  He is charming and loves attention.  After several sessions he asked to set on her lap to play with the family game.  He was denied and he didn't like that. She was professional - not distant, but clinical.  He became more assertive.  He was eventually diagnosed with RAD Disinhibited Type.  I had known it, but I had denied it.

Fast forward through a completed cycle of Play Therapy, adoption, preschool challenges and into elementary school.  Kindergarten is often a loving, encouraging atmosphere.  Here he found open laps and frequent hugs.  He pushed other children who stood between he and his teacher.  I didn't want the RAD on his school record, so instead I explained about his other challenge -Sensory Processing Disorder.  He is a sensory seeker, so rather than a hug, I encouraged the use of his sensory vest.  Rather than a lap, I encouraged the use of a bumpy floor pillow and weighted blanket.  It worked - a little.  I was exhausted, but I had kept his secret.

On to first grade.  I knew these teachers from the year before, and I was sure it was going to be a good year for him.  However, he found a way in that I had never anticipated and didn't really know how to challenge.  He forgot how to read.  He was still reading to me at home, but in the classroom struggled to sound out any words.  He was rewarded with individualized attention and extra time with the teacher.  He turned on the charm.  He started his new plan.  It isn't that he was looking for a new family, but he just wanted a back-up plan in case this current situation at home didn't work out for him. At this point we had been together for 4 years - over half of his life.

I struggled with what to do.  Relying on the Sensory Processing Disorder wasn't going to work this time.  He had also been recently diagnosed with ADD, but that only added to the individualized attention.  These teachers are great caring and compassionate people who love children.  In fact, they told this little guy that they "love him" almost every day.  Most parents dream of having teachers like this, but it was my nightmare.

Years of therapy was being undone.  "Love is for family.  We turn to our families for love and acceptance." I didn't realize how bad the situation had become until one day I received a quick little email note from the school office asking me to please remember to send XYZ a lunch tomorrow.  "What?  A lunch?  I send him a lunch and snack every day!", is what I wanted to reply.  Thankfully, I resisted that urge and held my tongue.

I picked him up early that day which surprised him.  I had forgotten to mention that I would be picking him up of a doctor's appointment.  We usually look forward to these times together, just the two of us.  Today, however, I needed to find out what had happened to his lunch.  As it turned out he had been hiding it in his desk and then telling the teacher or the teacher's aide or the office staff (he spread it around) that his mommy (ME!) had forgotten to pack his lunch, but he was afraid to remind me.  So, they had been sharing whatever food they had available along with soothing words and many hugs.  He sets a good trap.

It is important to note here that I had 2 other children attending the same school and 1 in the pre-school across the street that all had lunches and snacks.  I am also at the school hours each week volunteering in a variety of areas.  This went on for 2 weeks before it was mentioned to me.  The therapy that had been undone boggles the mind.  How on earth did this happen?  As I was on the way to the doctor with him I called my husband who went to the school and checked his desk.  What did he find?  The lunch I had packed.  He showed it to the teacher's aide and the office staff.  They had been duped.

I thought about it for the next few days.  I was his secret keeper, but the time had come that in order to keep from undoing any additional hard work I had to share the secret.  I made the appointment with Special Education Services and supplied the information regarding the diagnosis, and also, supplied articles on how to deal with RAD Disinhibited Type in the Classroom.  Honestly, it didn't change much.

I am fairly certain his teachers from that year think that I am wrong.  I was wrong.  It was wrong of me not to share that information sooner.  They seemed amazed by my ability to sooth my child later that year when he became upset over sharing with the classroom that he is adopted.  They had already cast their vote on my parenting abilities for this specific child, and I had failed in their eyes.  They were willing to agree with him that he needed a back-up plan.  It hurt.  It still does.  However, it is not for their approval that we parent children from difficult backgrounds.  It is because we were called by a higher authority to whom you do not say no.

This summer led to another episode in our now growing saga of "Life with RAD Disinhibited Type".  While on our family vacation our little guy decided to get up at around 1 am and leave the safety of our condo.  Our family had experienced an exhausting day of sightseeing, an all-you-can-eat buffet, a newly released movie and a large scale stage production.  All-in-all a vacation day that had us smiling from ear to ear and enjoying our time together as a family.  However, when it was time to go to bed he didn't want to go.  Most kids would protest.  He waited

He waited until he was sure we were all asleep.  He walked to the door in the living room and he left.  I don't think he realized the door would lock behind him.  I don't think his intention was to run away.  We didn't know he had left.  We never heard the door.  It didn't have an alarm.  Over an hour later the phone in our room rang awaking my husband and I from a deep sleep.  We didn't answer.  Who would be calling us at 2am?  A few minutes later there was a knock at our door, a key was inserted and it was opened.  The night security officer had just opened our condo to let our son back into our room.  He dashed across the room and jumped into his bed.  I never saw him make the dash, but I did open the door in time to catch the security officer to find out why he had opened our door.  When he explained that our son had been outside in the hall wondering around for at least an hour I thought he was mistaken.  How could that happen?  It was a long story.

It never occurred to our son that it wasn't safe out there.  He isn't wired that way.  Someone or something a long time ago broke that basic response.  It can't really be taught.

He had consequences, but they didn't really seem to matter.  He missed a fun day of playing at the water park.  When I asked what he missed the most about being locked out of our room it was his toys and his shoes.  When I asked if he was worried about something happening he looked at me with a confused expression.  When I asked if he would miss his family if he had been lost to us he thought for a moment and said, "no".  Cool as a cucumber.  Oh my.  It was time for a little life lesson, and we had one.  I always give my children age appropriate information.  This time was no different.  He is young, so I held back.  I think he finally understood.

A new school year has started.  I am watchful.  He is charming.  He will charm his new teacher.  He will do his best to manipulate any situation in which he finds himself to benefit him without ever considering the price paid by others.  The remorse he shows is remorse over being caught.  When he cries it is for himself.  He won't look you in the eye because he is afraid you will see the truth.  He will lie even when it doesn't make sense, but he will make you believe it.  He has many friends because they may be useful to him.

We love him, but love alone isn't enough.  We teach him, but the lessons don't seem to always stick.  He has a certificate of completion from play therapy.  I pray for his protection.  I will no longer keep his secret.  I have to protect him and in order to do that some must know.


  1. Wow, this is a very moving post. The honesty you've shared is powerful. I will be praying for y'all as well.

    Rachel Maldonado

  2. Thank you. Prayers are always the best gift to give.


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