Reactive Attachment Disorder: How a Family Got to the Other Side From Despair to Hope


How a family got to the other side of reactive attachment disorder
The Baxters grew from a family of five to seven nearly overnight. Although the journey was far different than expected due to reactive attachment disorder (RAD), they consider themselves on "the other side of RAD".

Ericka Baxter was watching the television show Bones when she got the call. “There was this sweet foster kid in the show and, oh, it just pulled at my heartstrings,” Ericka says.


The Baxters had pondered the idea of adoption but already had three biological children, ages 2, 6, and 9. “We didn’t think it’d be able to happen for us,” she says.


But then their school principal rang and said they had two students, ages 7 and 11, in foster care who needed a home in the district. They wondered if there was anyone from the Baxter’s church who were foster parents.


Don't miss #NavRAD22, the conference for parents of kids with RAD. Buy tickets by Sept. 30.


The Baxters had, coincidentally, just purchased a new water heater for their home. They had room for two more beds. Their hearts had always been open to a bigger family.


Everything seemed to make sense; they were ready after all. “I knew the girls were ours,” says Ericka. It was their call to grow the Baxter family.


A Call Like No Other


Seemingly overnight, the Baxters grew from a family of five to seven.


The Baxters had expected at least some rocky adjustments initially. After all, the girls had been through a lot before coming into their home.


But their oldest adopted daughter fell into the family seamlessly. “From day one, she was a Baxter,” says Ericka. “She wanted out of that life [of foster care].”


Their other adopted daughter Jesse, however, wasn’t too interested in a forever family—a hallmark of reactive attachment disorder (RAD).


Like many families, the Baxters had never heard of reactive attachment disorder—the serious brain impact caused by early trauma. And they certainly hadn’t had any appropriate training for what to do about it.

Families who struggle through reactive attachment disorder
The Baxters with the judge the day they adopted in 2016. Back then, they had never heard about reactive attachment disorder (RAD). They learned how to navigate it the hard way.

For six years, everything was a battle with Jesse. She lied constantly, everything from taking her sister’s clothes and hiding them to telling damaging falsehoods about the Baxters in their community. She constantly started long and overwhelming fights with her siblings. She also ran away from time to time.


Yet, like most children with RAD, Jesse was a different child outside of the home. Others only saw a charming and adorable young lady. Many people criticized the Baxters for asking for help with her.


But the Baxters did have some teachers in their smaller school district who believed them and a close-knit family of support—two advantages many RAD families lack.

“I was having teachers emailing me, telling me Jesse was telling her friends that I was a horrible person and threatened to beat her all the time,” Ericka says. “Thankfully they knew me and the other kids, so they knew that wasn’t true. Anytime I would meet one of her new friends they were super hesitant to meet me. I even had one tell me I wasn’t as scary as she thought I would be.”

Even though the Baxters had an official diagnosis of RAD for Jesse by that point, which was a relief, they had no guidance on what to do about it. All of the advice they followed from clinicians seemed to make matters worse.

Still, Ericka was determined to find the right path.


Jesse wasn’t too interested in a forever family—a hallmark of reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Like many families, the Baxters had never heard of RAD—the serious brain impact caused by early trauma. And they certainly hadn’t had any appropriate training for what to do about it.

Even though Ericka worked full-time and had four other children to take care of as well, she kept fielding phone calls from school about Jesse, explaining their situation to professionals, and looking for anyone and anything that might help them. She tried every parenting technique she could find. Her hyper-vigilance was at an all-time high.


Meanwhile, Ericka’s own mental health was declining. She began having panic attacks and passing out. She had trouble eating and was losing weight rapidly. It was then that her husband Ryan began to understand how much Ericka was going through as the primary caregiver.


The Baxters knew something had to change, somehow.


Finding Hope


Ryan continued their research about reactive attachment disorder online. They had tapped out all professional resources in their area. They needed to look elsewhere.


And then, one day, Ryan came across an article from the nonprofit organization RAD Advocates that changed everything.


“We read it, and it was, oh my gosh, this is our kid. Yeah, completely and totally,” says Ericka. “And that led us to this [NavRAD] conference. And we're like, we have to go, we just knew we had to go. And so last summer, we went to Colorado, and that's where we met all of the wonderful people that have helped us.”


Ericka’s own mental health was declining. She began having panic attacks and passing out. It was then that her husband Ryan began to understand how much Ericka was going through as the primary caregiver.

There, the Baxters found education, guidance, and resources to move ahead. They found other parents and professionals who could finish their sentences. The Baxters finally found hope.


The Baxters learned, among many other things at the conference, about the term glass children—the concept of how other children in the home silently suffer from RAD too. They learned how common PTSD is in the primary caregiver of children with RAD.


As Ericka and Ryan heard all of this together, they felt validated for the first time.


“The pieces fell into place. It’s not me, it’s a situation that I’m in,” says Ericka. “And so it was so freeing to know that what has happened was because of living with reactive attachment disorder.”


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Ericka and Ryan were able to decipher where they were in their RAD journey and where they needed to head next. They left the conference with a plan to help heal their whole family. Most importantly, they left as a stronger team.


“When it comes to a marriage and kid with reactive attachment disorder you have to be a team because they will try to split you, they'll try to triangulate you,” says Ericka. “Our marriage has come out on the other side stronger, because of it. But it could have easily broken it.”


Today, the Baxters consider themselves “on the other side of RAD”. Jesse is headed down the path toward healing. And the Baxter family as a whole is too.


“The pieces fell into place. It’s not me, it’s a situation that I’m in,” says Ericka. “And so it was so freeing to know that what has happened was because of living with reactive attachment disorder.”

“I am still Jesse’s best advocate, even though she has drugged me through the mud,” says Ericka. “But, if she has any chance of healing, I have to be the one that continues to push this through.”


Although the Baxter’s call led them down a far different path than they had ever envisioned, they tapped into their strength, resiliency and resources in a way that only a parent of a child with reactive attachment disorder can know. And that has made all the difference.


Buy tickets for #NavRAD22 before registration closes on September 30.

About the Author:


With a background in the nonprofit, education, and mental health sectors, Nichole Noonan founded Pen & Stick Communications to help noble organizations further their reach in the world via the fusion of communications strategy and copywriting. She has a particular niche in the area of reactive attachment disorder and passionately supports the RAD Advocates mission. Nichole earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism and a Master of Education.

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