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Reactive Attachment Disorder – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Overview

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is when an baby or a child fails to form a secure attachment with their primary caretaker. As a result, these children face problems in managing emotions and find establishing and maintaining relationships difficult. Children between 9 months to 5 years of age who have experienced neglect or abuse are more likely to develop this disorder. 

About reactive attachment disorder

The exact cause of reactive attachment disorder is not known, but researchers and psychologists believe that when the needs of a child are not met (physical and emotional), it gives a message to the child that their needs don’t matter. This leads to the development of the disorder. Other than building and maintaining relationships, it affects different domains of life. For example, it could affect educational performance and lead to psychological issues, including anxiety, depression, substance abuse, inappropriate sexual behavior, anti-social behavior, etc. 

Symptoms of reactive attachment disorder

Some of the prevalent symptoms of reactive attachment disorder are,

  • The child fails to show a range of emotions 
  • The child doesn’t seek attention when in discomfort/distressed  
  • The child avoids eye contact or physical touch of people, especially caregivers
  • The child expresses unusual anger, throws tantrums, indulges in arguments, acts disobediently, etc. 
  • The child shows preference and affection to strangers and avoids caregiver/family members
  • The child avoids interactive games like peekaboo 
  • The child is frequently seen as sad or seems depressed
  • The child withdraws from social situations  

When to see a doctor? 

You should consult a doctor if:

  • Your child seems emotionally detached from you or your family members 
  • Your child shows unusual emotional and behavioral response 
  • Your child doesn’t show interest in interacting with people 
  • Your child is constantly sad

If any of the above symptoms are evident in your child’s behavior, you should consider evaluation. 

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How to prevent reactive attachment disorder?

Every child has a unique environment at home and every parent offers the best possible resources and nourishment to raise their child. Still, some factors may lead to the development of reactive attachment disorder. Some of the preventive measures you can take as a parent or caregiver to help a child to develop a strong attachment bond are as follows:

  • Spend quality time with your child: You should interact actively with your child. It will help them to feel being taken care of, being heard, and being supported. 
  • Offer nurturing interaction to your child: A nurturing interaction comforts, soothes your child; it could be just a hug or a smile . 
  • Understand the verbal and non-verbal cues: As Infants communicate all their needs initially via crying and later by cooing and babbling, you need to understand their non-verbal cues. As soon as the child starts speaking, you need to understand their short sentences and reciprocate accordingly clearly. If you fail, your child may begin to feel detached and stop approaching you when distressed. 
  • Engage in verbal and non-verbal interaction: At times, infants, toddlers just want to hug you or sit in your lap to comfort them as they come across some alarming stimuli in the environment. You just need to hold, hug them in such cases, with no need for words. So, you should convey your love and support by non-verbal means as well; it plays a crucial role in developing solid emotional bonds between child and  caregiver.

What are the possible treatments for reactive attachment disorder?

As RAD is a psychological disorder, it is treated with psychological interventions as well. Some of the treatment methods for RAD are as follows: 

  • Psychotherapy: It is an intervention for RAD in which a psychologist or a psychotherapist works with a child one-to-one to understand and reduce the problematic behavior pattern. It also intends to skill-building in the child. 
  • Social skills intervention: This intervention is targeted to build social skills among the child, including how to interact with others in an age-appropriate manner, how to behave in typical social situations, etc. Caregivers are generally a part of this intervention. 
  • Family therapy: This intervention helps a child and a caregiver interact healthier and develop an emotional bond between the two.

Conclusion 

Reactive attachment disorder is a psychological disorder that develops when a child senses a lack of importance and their needs are not met. It profoundly affects a child ,who develops an aversion for caregivers. An early diagnosis and intervention could lead to better outcomes and help a child establish a strong emotional bond with the caregiver or parents. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

If my child is sad and not having a strong attachment with me, does it confirm reactive attachment disorder? 

No, the mere presence of a couple of symptoms doesn’t qualify your child to have the disorder. You should consult a psychologist or a psychiatrist to confirm the presence of the same. 

Is reactive attachment disorder treatable? 

Yes, the disorder is treatable. A psychotherapist or psychologist could treat the disorder competently as they are experts in this field. The treatment often leads to good outcomes. 

Can reactive attachment disorder lead to other complications or problems?

Yes, it could lead to other problems in children such as eating disorders, difficulty in academics, anxiety, etc. 

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