Updated: Apr 30, 2021
So you just received a professional confirmation that your child has reactive attachment disorder, now what?
You surely feel an array of emotions.
You may feel relieved to finally have a name for the behaviors your child has exhibited. Or terrified because you looked up this disorder and some scary stories came up that feel familiar. And grief because your child isn’t attached.
Whatever you feel, please know it is normal.
A reactive attachment disorder diagnosis helps you to learn what type of treatment your child needs. Yet, it’s also important to know that it’s not so simple. The diagnosis is a great start but is truly only the beginning.
The sooner you know the realities and frustrations of this disorder, the quicker you’ll be able to pivot in the right direction. We know hundreds of parents (including ourselves) who spent time and resources on the wrong path. We don’t want that for you.
Here are 6 helpful things to know as you begin the journey through reactive attachment disorder:
Your journey ahead involves more than just sending your child to any therapist or psychiatrist. Be prepared to do plenty of research and, perhaps, travel great distances or pay out-of-pocket for quality care.
Most universities don’t provide education on reactive attachment disorder. If they do, it’s a short section that doesn’t address all the complexities of the disorder or how to treat it.
While plenty of therapeutic styles exist for attachment issues, that’s not what your child needs. There’s a significant difference between an attachment issue and an attachment disorder.
A clinician who doesn’t understand the difference—and many do not—can actually cause more harm (a topic that takes a lot of explanation for a future blog post (sign-up here to have it sent straight to your inbox). In short, look for a clinician who specializes in reactive attachment disorder and includes you, NOT just your child, in therapy. To work with the child alone is a red flag that the clinician is using traditional therapeutic techniques for attachment issues, not for the disorder.
If you’ve exhausted all options and cannot find a professional who specializes in the disorder, find one who is at least willing to support you and learn new things. This is a good start. Always trust your instincts and remember the next point…
2. You are an expert on reactive attachment disorder.
Shocking, I know.
We’re typically able to turn to professionals to help us with complex issues. But, again, this is different. You have lived with reactive attachment disorder firsthand. You see sides of this disorder that others may never see. Reactive attachment disorder presents much differently in the home versus out in the community.
You will encounter a lot of opinions along your journey from teachers, family, friends, therapists and others. While they likely have the best intentions, they simply don’t know your child or the disorder like you do (if at all). It’s best to calmly thank them for caring and let it go—
…and then confidently keep seeking the right path or stay on the one you feel is best.
3. Even the expert (you) needs to keep learning.
Education is your most useful tool for reactive attachment disorder. The more you learn about the disorder, the more you can educate those around you. And the more others understand the disorder, the better they can support you.
Learn as much as you can about early attachment and its importance in the development of a child. Look for books and articles about early childhood trauma. The support groups on social media can also give you valuable information from other parents on the front lines.
4. You’ll need to develop a safety plan for your family.
Create plans to prevent and prepare for escalated reactive attachment disorder behaviors. Some ideas to put safety measures in your home include:
Install cameras to help monitor your child with constant line-of-sight.
Put alarms on bedroom doors to alert you when your child is leaving his or her room.
Lock all sharp objects, poisons and medications from your child.
Designate safe places for each person in your family to go should an emergency arise. Come up with some sort of word or signal that indicates to your other children when it’s time to go to their safe places.
Depending on the severity of your child’s disorder, you may need various plans to contact the police. Your child's behaviors may escalate quickly and violently at times. That said, you may not have the ability to locate your phone while also managing the situation. An older sibling may need to know when and how to call the police or you may look into security devices to help in that regard.
If these measures are not enough to bring safety to the home, your child likely requires a higher level of care (also a future blog topic - sign-up here to have it sent straight to your inbox).
5. You need to start documenting daily.
Documentation can help you get better care for your child. You can more effectively explain what is happening in your home to professionals, recall various therapies or medications you’ve tried and how they worked and keep track of trends and your child’s triggers. For example, if your child acts out at school, get copies of the school reports. If your child has to be hospitalized, make sure to get copies of what treatment was done. Safety cameras in your home can also lend information. Keep a journal of how your days go, including what was the same or different, etc. It’s helpful to create a daily system to document all of it and to keep everything in the same place for easy access when needed.
6. You are not alone.
Thousands of families worldwide struggle to navigate this disorder. I wish I knew what to expect from the beginning with my child who has reactive attachment disorder. It is the wish of all of us at RAD Advocates—that’s why we exist.
We’re here for you because of all the times no one was there for us. Because we weren’t prepared. Because we didn’t know where to begin or where to turn. Because we were barely surviving. We’re here now, stronger and more passionate than ever. And we’re in your corner.