My three-year-old son “unofficially” has Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s only unofficial because the one therapist in our county who would see him (because therapists are apparently terrified of this disorder and even more terrified when the client is a toddler) wasn’t ballsy enough to give the diagnosis. What he said was that Nicholas’ issues were “consistent with Reactive Attachment on several levels and the only other appropriate diagnosis would be Aspergers, but after meeting him, it is clear that he does not have any form of Autism.” However, he did not feel comfortable making the diagnosis because he is not an attachment specialist.
This is where I would like to mumble swear words suppressed under a fake coughing noise. Cough-bull-cough-sh-cough-it. He has it. I know it. Eddie (reluctantly) knows it. His Occupational Therapist knows it. His one-on-one teacher knows it. The therapists know it too. Hopefully we’ll be geting some help soon because I’m meeting with a play therapist this afternoon, finally, after months of phone calls to children’s therapists, art therapists, and other play therapists. This one agreed to meet with us. Guess what? She also has an adopted son. Coincidence? I think not.
Actually, there are a lot of people, like the aforementioned OT and teacher who are trying to help, but they can’t because the only treatment for this disorder is a special form of therapy. Therapists don’t want to treat a three-year-old because he can’t verbalize complex emotions. Yet they warn you that it will only get worse as he gets older, so be sure to get him into therapy (with some other therapist, not me!) right away.
I’m glad I am familiar with this system because I spent several years as a public school teacher. I know my son’s rights and I know who to call and how to fight for them. I got him Early Intervention services, I finally found him a therapist, I’ll get him behavior intervention services if they’re necessary, but I can see why people who aren’t as familiar would give up. That’s not happening here. I’m a stubborn old broad who doesn’t back down until I get what I want, and in this case what I want involves helping my child, so I’ll fight twice as hard. But it still SUCKS.
I’ve been a waitress, sales associate, nanny, elementary school teacher, and stay-at-home mom. Granted, I’ve never been deployed overseas, but next to that (or what I imagine that to be) I can assure you being the mother of a child with RAD is hands-down the most emotionally challenging job in the entire world. NEVER NEVER NEVER did I ever think I’d be able to identify with the mothers you see on the news who do horrible things to their children. Let me just say that I have the self-control and the strong support system in place so I will never do those things, but I understand how a woman could be pushed to that point.
I love my son. I wouldn’t fight so hard for him if I didn’t. What I do not love is being kicked, pinched, and bitten while I change his diaper. I do not love that I have to change his diaper because he is not “emotionally ready” to be potty trained. I do not love being head-butted while I try to restrain him during temper tantrums because if I don’t restrain him he will (and has) wind up with huge scratches, bruises, or worse from the pain he inflicts on himself, other people, and the dog during his outbursts of rage. I do not love the judgment I feel when he acts out in public. (The next time an old lady tells me in a patient-on-the-surface-but-actually-condescending-and-obnoxious way, “When my little one used to act out I would….” I swear I’m going to scream at her, “Really? Were you trying to raise a child who was born to homeless parents, given cows’ milk from birth that destroyed his insides, and had lived with three families, fifteen different siblings, and in two states by the time he was a year and a half old? No? Then SHUT UP!”) And I really don’t love that people have a hard time believing me when I tell them that he acts like this because he is so sweet to strangers and people he doesn’t know that well. That’s one of the symptoms of the disorder too, it’s called being “artificially engaging.”
I also do not love that the treatment for this disorder goes against everything I’ve ever learned about child rearing. I’d like to think I know a bit about this subject, after all I did earn a Master’s Degree in education, work for years as a nanny and teacher, start my own child-centered business, and just land a new job teaching (ironically) parenting classes. Children with RAD have such awful behavior essentially because they are testing you to see if you will abandon them like they feel their birth parents did. Children have a way of internalizing things to make them their fault. They think they did something bad to make their birth parents leave, so they figure, “It’s going to happen eventually, might as well be REALLY bad and get it over with.” The only way to deal with this behavior is with patience and love so that they understand that even when they are awful, you still love them. Seriously. He kicks me in the jaw and I’m supposed to say, calmly, “Nicholas, we do not kick. I know you are upset, but Mommy loves you. Let’s sit on your bean bag chair for a minute.” The beanbag supposedly serves as a safe place for him to throw a violent temper tantrum, but in reality he just picks it up and throws it at someone, then throws himself headfirst into a wall or onto the floor. That’s it. No punishment, no consequences, just repeat that process a hundred million times and maybe eventually he’ll get the message that we love him and he gets to stay with us forever. Period.
Sometimes it seems like every aspect of his personality is a symptom of this disorder. How do I even know who this kid is? Sometimes he is so personable that I swear he’s going to be either the President of the United States or the next Billy Graham. Sometimes he has such evil in his eyes and seems to get such pleasure out of other people’s pain that I worry he’s a sociopath. How do I make sure the latter doesn’t happen. We’ve tried every “natural consequence,” every sticker chart, every prize jar, time out, spanking, ignoring, everything and anything you can think of. Did it. Didn’t work. Supposedly that’s because the only thing that will work is therapy. If you can find a therapist. Hopefully I have. Hopefully today is the start of a new beginning. I kind of doubt it.