It’s that time of year again—back to school. A new grade often means new teachers who need to be informed about reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Most people have never heard of the disorder. And those who have rarely understand it well. Educators are no exception. They typically lack the training necessary to work effectively with their students with RAD and their families. You’ll likely need to help fill that role with patience, grace, and persistence.
Who to Meet
For children in elementary school, you can request to meet in person with the homeroom teacher as well as the special education teacher who oversees implementation of your child’s IEP or 504. If your child is also starting a new school, it’s important to meet with the principal and school counselor too. In middle school or high school, it may be necessary to email the subject teachers if your child will be switching classes due to the sheer number of teachers, but you can still meet in person with the special education teacher.
What to Say
As a preface to reactive attachment disorder, it’s often helpful to give a nutshell version of your child’s history, such as the trauma they experienced. Then you can briefly explain reactive attachment disorder and provide them this handout for educators from RAD Advocates. Inform them of behaviors they may see as the school year progresses and the motivation/need behind those behaviors. Also let them know any triggers your child has. Emphasize that open communication with you is key to your child’s success. Find out what their preferred communication style is—i.e. phone, email or in person after school.
Keep in mind that some teachers will be more receptive than others. Some may see reactive attachment disorder issues as a home problem despite your best efforts. Others may gain more understanding as the school year unfolds. Find an ally if you can.
A Mom’s-eye View
In my experience, the special education teachers have been the most receptive and communicative. In middle school, the special education teacher sent home weekly charts where the paraprofessional noted my son’s behavior, per his IEP, in each class. This helped avoid triangulation and sneaky behavior. For example, I found out through the charts that other kids were loaning him smartphones that he was then using instead of doing his school work. We contacted the parents of the children loaning him the smartphones and also informed all the teachers that he did not have his own phone and to let us know if he was spotted with one given his misuse of the devices. I would also let the special education teacher know if he was having a hard time with something at home—such as a traumaversary (a time of year when he was especially triggered)—and she would inform the subject teachers.
My son’s most successful year was his freshman year, when I had daily communication with his special education teacher. I was lucky that this was a small continuation high school, and the teacher took the time to develop this individualized approach with me. We worked in tandem to communicate how he was doing at home and school and strategize supports to help him get his work done and stay on track. Sometimes this meant giving him space to calm down and circling back on unfinished assignments later. While consequences and rewards often don’t work for kids with reactive attachment disorder, my son needed them in place as external motivation, and our communication helped keep his school work and behavior from going off the rails … most of the time. We had to constantly adapt our approach as the school year evolved, and the daily communication was key.
Patient Persistence is Key
Consistent communication with your child’s educators is key to success at school. However, it’s important to realize that teachers have many students with varying needs to attend to. They are often stretched thin. Show them appreciation when you can, whether it’s a gift card or something homemade. And give them grace when they can’t respond immediately. Approaching issues as a united team is always the best route to success. If you keep working together, you’ll get much further for your student.
About the author:
Micaela Myers and her husband adopted a pair of siblings from foster care in 2015, when the children were 9 and 13. Since then, she has become an advocate for foster care reform and the support and education of adoptive parents. Micaela earned her MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and works as a professional writer and editor in Wyoming.