Updated: Mar 28
Before my husband and I adopted our daughter, I had read dozens of books in preparation. I devoured personal stories from other adoptive families. I made notes about various parenting strategies. I had a stack of resources by my bedside written by professionals about attachment issues.
I shared all of my new knowledge with my husband. We felt confident that, if anyone could successfully adopt a child, we could. We were knowledgeable—full of information and strategies about adoption, trauma, parenting and attachment. And we were seasoned parents of our other biological children. We felt ready.
Six months into our adoption, however, I was crying in a therapist's office next to my husband. "I can do hard, but I can't do hopeless," I told the therapist. "I need you to show me there is hope."
Our confidence as adoptive parents had quickly faded to absolute despair as our daughter rejected our love and nurturing. She frankly verbalized that she had no interest in working on relationships with our family. In fact, she said, she felt hatred toward many of us. I was no exception to those feelings.
Although our therapist was somewhat helpful, we still continued to struggle significantly. And all the books I had previously read seemed worthless in light of our reality. None of them quite seemed to match what we were experiencing.
At some point over the course of our adoption journey, we learned that our daughter suffered from reactive attachment disorder or RAD.
Although I don't remember at what point we received the diagnosis, I remember the moment vividly. I instantly recalled a trauma class my husband and I had taken in preparation for the adoption. The instructor, a therapist, mentioned the disorder but assured us it was rare. We'd likely never encounter it, she said.
And, yet, there it was—that really rare disorder that we never dreamed we would see.
My research grew more intense at that point. I found some books, not simply about adoption and attachment, but specifically about the impact of severe trauma, reactive attachment disorder and the realities of living with all of it.
Finally, things began to at least make sense. I didn't feel quite as lost.
I now know this—reactive attachment disorder is a serious disorder that requires specific treatment. There are many good books and therapists to address adoption, attachment and trauma struggles. Yet, they do not directly address the issues parents of children with reactive attachment disorder face.
Now past the dark and confusing times of our early adoption journey, other parents ask me for book recommendations. In fact, all of us at RAD Advocates get the question often. We've found some books that provide the insight, validation or explanation we so desperately sought in the thick of despair.
Here are RAD books and resources that may help along the journey of reactive attachment disorder:
An Unlit Path by Deborah L Hannah - Hannah shares how it feels to raise a child with reactive attachment disorder and gives amazing insight for parents from someone steps ahead of them.
Detached: Surviving Reactive Attachment by Jessie Hogsett - Hogsett provides a unique perspective about reactive attachment disorder as an adult who struggled with the disorder as a child.
Raising Devon by Keri Williams - This is a can't-put-down book that reads like fiction yet depicts the very real experiences of an adoptive mother who has raised traumatized children. It is a helpful resource for parents to give to friends and family who do not understand the realities of living with reactive attachment disorder.
Relinquished When Love Means Letting Go by Carrie O'Toole - O'Toole tells her story of the pain and suffering of infertility, miscarriage and an international adoption that went painfully awry. Along that journey, O'Toole grapples with the decision about what to do when her family's love is not enough for their adoptive child.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D. - Dr. van der Kolk helps readers understand how the brain and body respond to traumatic experiences. He offers treatment options that can help bring relief and healing for those who have had life-altering exposure to trauma.
The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Maia Szalavitz - Dr. Perry, along with neuroscientist journalist Szalavitz, explains the impact of severe trauma on children. They give real-life examples of different children and the reasons behind their maladaptive behaviors.
The Guide to Raising Kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder that You Won't Find in Bookstores by RAD Advocates - While there is no official, one-size-fits-all reactive attachment disorder parenting guide, we put together a blog post of things we wish we knew early on.
To raise a child with reactive attachment disorder is an exhausting and bewildering experience. It is only more devastating to spend the little time at hand using strategies, therapies, etc. that do nothing—if not make matters worse. Our hope at RAD Advocates is to change that course for other parents however we can.
Not every book we've recommended will speak to every reader. Yet, we hope our list of RAD books brings comfort to those who walk the lonely and difficult road of reactive attachment disorder.