In an effort to educate and bring awareness to the struggle of attachment issues, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and helping children heal from early childhood trauma, over the next months I’ll be sharing stories of families on my website.
For the sake of privacy I’ve changed names and all descriptive details, but let me assure you these are completely real. This story is of Tanya and Allison, 11 years old. In Tanya’s own words, this is Living with RAD: God Would Not Let Me Forget Her.
Please read this with ultimate compassion.
If you are a family with a similar life situation and would like to contribute to this series, click here.
Living with RAD: God Wouldn’t Let Me Forget Her
When Allison Came
Allison came to me at 5 years old. I was her preschool teacher.
One day she didn’t show up to class. We called her grandparents, with whom she was living, who informed us they couldn’t do it anymore and had given up. I debated whether to contact Department of Family Services (DFS) as I just couldn’t stop thinking about her.
I believe God would not let me forget her for a reason.
It took me about a month, but I eventually called. That same day they were in the process of finding separate homes for all three siblings as they had issues that made them hard to place together. I called on Wednesday, and she was with me Friday.
Recognizing the Signs
When Allison was in my classroom, I knew she had issues.
I thought a stable home and love could “fix” her.
We live in a small town where no one’s heard of RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder).
I’ve tried rewards, consequences, and behavior charts. Nothing works for more than a couple weeks. We tried one medication for behavior, which made her aggressive. We will hopefully start a different medication soon. She goes to a local counselor but don’t know if it’s helping.
How to Deal with Behavior
Allison responds best when I’m ahead of her behavior. Keeping our world small is important so she’s mostly home with me. It’s draining as a single mom, but it’s easier than getting her routine out of order. We’ve also stopped all red dye as she gets angry and emotional when she eats foods with these ingredients.
A Day in the Life
Here’s what our typical day looks like.
I usually get up first, long enough to have a few moments to myself.
I get Allison up and she does her morning routine of bathroom, clothes, teeth, hair and shoes. If she gets done before me, she gets to watch TV. We leave for school after that. After daycare, if she has a good day we go to the park for some physical stimulation.
We go home, eat dinner, and her routine consists of pajamas, picking out clothes, feeding and walking the dog, and brushing teeth. If she does this before bedtime, she gets to watch TV. I know it’s not best activity, but it’s the only thing I’ve found that motivates her. And even then, some nights she chooses to simply go to bed without doing any of it or watching TV.
What I Wish People Knew About RAD
Parenting Allison is literally the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I calculate every possible outcome before doing something – even going to church.
Sometimes my parenting seems stricter and sometimes looser, because there are certain aspects that must be considered.
I wish people knew her charming personality was really hiding insecurity and anxiety about whether people really love her.
She looks normal but mentally struggles, and all I can do is love, guide, and pray. Attachment issues can’t be fixed overnight. It takes years to undo what’s been created.
If you know someone who has a child with RAD, love them in practical ways on a continual basis. They live a life you can’t imagine, and it’s usually a painfully isolating life.
Difference in Behavior
Allison doesn’t pick up on social cues to the point we thought she was autistic. She’s emotionally like a 3 year old, but physically she is a 7 year old.
When Allison has a tantrum, people don’t understand why she does it. She can go from calm to raging in seconds. Her rages have decreased from when she first came to live with me, originally lasting 30 minutes but now less than 10. She has a hard time regulating her emotions when hungry, hot, or tired. Because of past trauma, she’ll fight or run if feeling threatened.
Would I Adopt Again?
If I had to do it all over again, would I adopt knowing what I know now?
Most days, yes.
I love Allison and she’s changed me for good in many ways.
Some days though, I’d honestly say no. I fear for our future. What happens if I can’t handle her as she grows stronger? Can I afford a Residential Treatment Facility (RTF) if needed?
In the end, I believe I’d do it again. If I didn’t, who would?
We Need More Help
I wish family and friends would take care of Allison more. My parents take her for an hour some weekends (for which I’m grateful) but sometimes I’d love a day to myself.
Some nights when we have escalations, I’m too exhausted to cook. Ordering a pizza or bringing dinner by would help. I frequently don’t get much done at night because I fall asleep with her.
Schools have been a struggle this year. She loved kindergarten. Her teacher was amazing and did everything she could.
First grade was rough. She had a new teacher who had other students with behavioral needs that were beyond what the teacher could handle. Allison was in the office or suspended most of first semester for assaulting staff members and stealing. Her teacher sent her to the office without telling anyone, so she’d walk the halls looking for empty classrooms to steal from. She’d hit or kick staff if she was cornered or grabbed. Once she was sitting on the assistant principal’s desk. Every time Allison would move, the assistant principal would flinch. Allison had won and she knew it.
Allison started doing things to purposefully get suspended. Allison was still in foster care at this time, so one day the school called her social worker who said I wasn’t parenting her effectively. The social worker questioned if I could handle her. The caseworker yelled at me, asking if I wanted her to take Allison away. She’d move and never be in my life again. I sobbed, because I loved Allison and wanted to adopt her.
Because of the school incident, we went through in-home at-risk family sessions. The person assigned to our case had never heard of RAD and eventually admitted I did everything I could. She signed the paperwork saying I was fit to parent Allison, and the next week she was adopted.
Administration at the school still thinks I’m the problem and don’t discipline well. I wish the school understood more about how her behavior is due to trauma and attachment issues.
Where I Am Today
Some days, I’m great.
Other days it’s a struggle.
I quit teaching. I couldn’t teach and come home to her each night.
My new job is more flexible and I often work from home, which helps me not be so stressed when I pick her up.
My dad doesn’t understand her behavior and thinks a good spanking will fix it. My mom tries to help, but sometimes she doesn’t know what to do. They watch her in short spurts but never too long.
Once, my brother and his fiance came to visit. Allison threw a fit over something and they got up and left. When people don’t want to be around us, it hurts.
We also left the church I had gone to for years. They couldn’t handle her and weren’t willing to make changes. I had parents ask me not to let Allison play with their kids.
There have been positives. I know more about children’s mental health than I thought possible. I work with families whose children have special needs, and there has been a comfort and power when I tell them about Allison. I understand their questions, worries and fears because I’ve been there. There is power in simply relating to them in a way I couldn’t if I didn’t have Allison. Our life situation h also made me more outspoken because I’ve had to fight for her.
I pray Allison grows and develops into a functional adult. I know that a residential treatment facility (RTF) might be a possibility but am doing everything I can to not get there.
If she goes back to her biological mom, I pray she remembers me.
If things with Allison’s behavior don’t change, she may grow up lonely and follow the wrong path. If she works on her life issues, I see a lawyer or president in her future because she’s not afraid to tell you what she’s thinking!
For More Information About RAD
Are you parenting a child with attachment issues or RAD? Share about it in the comments below.