Reactive Attachment disorder: causes, signs, & treatment

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a major and complicated mental health illness that commonly appears in young children as a result of disturbances in the early care connections they experience. Significant challenges in creating and keeping strong, stable bonds with carers are its defining traits. These attachment issues can have a significant and long-lasting impact on a child’s emotional, social, and psychological growth. A history of interrupted caregiving and attachment experiences throughout a child’s important early years of life is usually the root cause of reactive attachment disorder.

Neglect, physical or emotional abuse, inconsistent parenting, several placements in institutions or foster care, or the absence of a primary carer are examples of these disturbances. To assist children with RAD in forming secure and healthy relationships, controlling their emotions, and enhancing their general well-being, early identification and treatment—often involving attachment-focused therapies—is important. Untreated RAD can cause ongoing emotional and social difficulties as an adult.


This article will discuss reactive attachment disorder. Well, let’s dive right in!


What is attachment disorder reactive?

Reactive attachment disorder is categorized as a trauma- and stressors-related condition of early childhood brought on by social neglect and maltreatment. Affected children struggle to form emotional attachments to others, exhibit a decreased capacity for positive emotion, are unable to seek or accept physical or emotional closeness, and may react violently when held, cuddled, or comforted, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5). It’s important not to forget that reactive attachment disorder is a serious disorder that calls for expert evaluation and treatment.

Early detection and treatment—often involving attachment-focused therapies—are essential to helping children with RAD create safe and healthy relationships, manage their emotions, and improve their overall wellbeing. As an adult, untreated RAD may result in persistent emotional and social problems.

How common is attachment disorder reactive?

It can be difficult to correctly calculate the frequency of reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which is thought to be very uncommon. Children who had their caregiver relationships severely disrupted—often as a result of abuse, neglect, frequent caregiver changes, or institutionalization—tended to develop the disorder. The majority of kids do not frequently encounter these elements. RAD is usually thought to affect a small number of children, while exact prevalence rates might vary depending on the community investigated and the diagnostic criteria employed. According to certain studies, it might only impact 1% of the overall population. But it might be more common in some high-risk populations, like children who have been adopted overseas, kids who are in foster care, or people who have gone through serious trauma or stress.

What are the worst cases of attachment reactive disorder?

The following shows the worst cases of attachment-reactive disorder:

  • pathological lies
  • Chronic Theft
  • Hoarding
  • Issues Relating to Food
  • Verbal Violence
  • Vandalism and Property Destruction
  • Torture of Children
  • Sexual Conduct
  • Fire Begin

Pathological lies

Children with Reactive Attachment Disorder frequently engage in pathological lying. Their minds function in reverse. Telling the truth feels riskier than lying.  The RAD youngster strives to avoid the truth by all means because it involves experiencing emotions that might not be pleasant. Experiencing those feelings is terrifying and extremely anxious. Some kids with RAD are prone to dissociation, can pass out in the middle of behaviors, and may not be aware of what they’re saying or doing at the time. Additionally, many kids with reactive attachment disorder experience a lack of guilt. Except for the adrenaline boost lying can cause, telling the truth feels the same as lying. For RAD kids, lying is another technique to get the attention they want from other people.

It can also be employed to influence other people. The unfortunate reality is that when it comes to RAD children’s pathological lying, carers experience the most pain. Teachers and other members of the community are told lies. You might contact Child Protective Services. Investigations may take place. The youngster destroys every relationship she enters because she can’t stop lying. Lying can result in imprisonment, placement in a residential facility, homelessness, or being on the run if it is accompanied by other alarming RAD behaviors. Pathological lying can also result in false accusations of child abuse against carers. In these circumstances, carers may lose their charges.

Chronic Theft

Stealing is a problem for many kids with reactive attachment disorder. They may have discovered early on in life that stealing was important for life as well as satisfying. They can also believe that stealing is the only way they can get anything valuable or desirable. Due to the way their minds function due to the abuse and trauma they endured, other RAD youngsters steal out of a lack of guilt. Stealing is difficult to stop once this behavior starts and RAD kids experience the high of not getting caught when they take it.

Theft of property by children with Reactive Attachment Disorder may result in carer liability. Be careful that RAD kids steal both legal and illicit drugs. The child takes something valuable from someone else, gets into difficulty with the law, is put in a residential facility, becomes homeless, or is on the run. Theft of valuable objects discovered in the home can also land carers in legal jeopardy.


Children with reactive attachment disorder frequently hoard food and items out of fear that they may be lost again, much as they did when they were young as a result of trauma and abuse. Children with reactive attachment disorder might hoard to feel more in control. They experience severe anxiety, which may show itself in this behavior. When a child is a minor and unhygienic conditions arise at home, the carers may be held accountable. The child resides in unhygienic conditions that pose a fire risk and can cause illness, disease, and even death. If carers allow these actions in the home, they could be accused of not providing humane living circumstances.

Issues Relating to Food

When it comes to eating disorders in kids with reactive attachment disorder, there are two levels. Some people won’t eat. Some people eat. Many RAD kids don’t know whether they’re hungry or full due to early trauma and abuse. Their feeling of interception is not working properly. Based on the situations that surrounded obtaining nutrition in the past, there might be an aversion to food. Some kids may have been forced to eat or starve. Many kids with reactive attachment disorder struggle with undetected food-related disorders such as allergies, digestive problems, etc. If untreated, further damage is incurred. Rarely do RAD kids not struggle with their diets.

The stealing and hoarding of food, bulimia, and/or anorexia can result from food concerns when they are combined with other Reactive Attachment Disorder Behaviors. In the worst possible ways, mealtime turns into a war for dominance. This is a problematic behavior. If a person refuses to eat or loses or gains unhealthy amounts of weight, carers may be held accountable. To determine whether parents are feeding their children, CPS investigations may be conducted. Reactive attachment disorder’s worst instances: Unhealthy eating practices result in illness, physical problems, and finally death. If a RAD child is malnourished, not eating, and in danger of losing their child, the carers may be accused of negligence.

Verbal Violence

Parenting a child with reactive attachment disorder sometimes involves screaming, cursing, and profanity. There are continual verbal attacks. Battles are more likely to occur if they are a possibility. Due to the ongoing verbal abuse, which almost always results in additional behaviors, care children with reactive attachment disorder frequently battle with anxiety, sadness, and PTSD. Caretakers frequently try to avoid any conflicts, which might ultimately make matters worse. They frequently believe that the behaviors of RAD children are their fault, but in truth, they are simply exhausted from the constant verbal abuse. A youngster with RAD could continue to verbally abuse family members and other people, alienating them.

Vandalism and Property Destruction

When a RAD youngster is engaged, vandalism and property destruction can happen in several different ways. This can involve urinating and smearing feces on surfaces and furnishings. Property damage from rages can occur at home, at school, and in other leisure contexts. Other times, it could just feel enjoyable to vandalize and destroy stuff. The rush of avoiding detection combined with the lack of guilt can be lethal. RAD children frequently don’t feel deserving of gifts and may even trash them to express their self-esteem.

Other times, Reactive Attachment Disorder-affected kids distance themselves from carers by causing property damage in one way or another. Unfortunately, this is yet another instance where parents may be held accountable for the property damage and vandalism committed by their RAD children. Replacements and repairs can be quite time- and money-consuming. A youngster who causes property damage or vandalism may be held accountable, detained in jail, placed in residential treatment, or forced to flee from the authorities.

Torture of Children

Reactive attachment disorder patients are frequently advised to be the youngest or only children in their family.  This is because RAD kids frequently treat other kids very badly and hurt them in several ways. Some kids with reactive attachment disorder intentionally hurt other kids. When others aren’t looking, some people could find it more satisfying to abuse children. The RAD child’s actions may involve acts of cruelty or other forms of maltreatment towards other kids. Physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse are all possible forms of this abuse.

When other kids won’t listen to them or do what they are told, children with Reactive Attachment Disorder may perceive them as threats and injure them to keep control. The ultimate method to push back and not bond in a family may be to hurt other kids there. Children with RAD frequently exhibit negative behaviors towards other kids at home and in the community, and carers are frequently blamed for these actions. The worst cases of reactive attachment disorder involve a youngster who kills another child and is then imprisoned.

Sexual Conduct

Reactive attachment disorder in children is frequently accompanied by sexual abuse. They mimic their abusers’ behavior and act out on others. Other RAD kids utilize sexual behaviors to manipulate those around them. Once sexual behaviors start, it can be quite difficult to stop them. Siblings, younger children, animals, and adults may be impacted by these behaviors. Parents of RAD children who engage in sexual behavior may be held accountable. The youngster with RAD is apprehended, charged with a crime, and either put in residential treatment or imprisoned. Carers are accused of putting the well-being of others in danger and face related penalties.

Fire Begin

Reactive Attachment Disorder can cause some kids to light fires. This is a very risky behavior that has terrible effects on families and causes mayhem. Some RAD kids take pleasure in the sights and noises of fire. Some people relish the exhilaration of building a fire and watching things burn. Big emotions can be expressed through fire, especially for children with reactive attachment disorder who don’t feel secure sharing. The harm caused by fires ignited by RAD children can be the caregiver’s fault. The cost is considerable.  The RAD child may set fire to residences, businesses, and public spaces; they may also face charges, imprisonment, or residential treatment. The flames the RAD child starts may result in the deaths of innocent people.


What are the two types of reactive attachment disorder?

Reactive attachment disorder comes in two primary varieties: inhibited and disinhibited. Beyond early childhood, there hasn’t been much research on the indications and symptoms of this disease, but as kids become older, they could develop inhibited or disinhibited behavior patterns. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a complicated mental health disease that frequently appears in young children as a result of defects in the early caregiving connections they experience. There are two primary RAD sub-types, each with its own set of diagnostic standards:

Inhibited Type (RAD-Inhibited)

Children with the Inhibited Type (RAD-Inhibited) frequently display overly inhibited, withdrawn behavior. In social settings, they could act unduly circumspect, cautious, and reluctant. Key characteristics of this kind include:

  • Difficulty accepting or seeking out carers’ comfort or support.
    Limited positive affect (lack of happy or positive feelings) during social interactions.
    Limited social reactivity, including issues with making eye contact and expressing emotions with the face.
    An inclination towards solitary pursuits or interactions with things rather than others.
    A propensity to avoid or fight carers’ physical touch or affection.

Disinhibited Type (RAD-Disinhibited)

Children who have RAD-Disinhibited behaviors exhibit indiscriminate sociability and may approach and engage with unknown adults with exceptional ease. Key characteristics of this kind include:

  • A lack of acceptable social boundaries, such as not being hesitant while approaching strangers.
    Having trouble building genuine emotional bonds with primary carers.
    Superficially alluring behavior that frequently lacks discernment.
    Willingness to interact freely and unhesitatingly with strangers.
    Improper physical touch with unknowing individuals.

Remember that Reactive Attachment Disorder is a complicated and very uncommon illness. It often arises as a result of early experiences with abuse, neglect, institutionalization, or a pattern of frequent carer changes that interfere with the ability of the child to create strong bonds. Children with RAD need to be properly diagnosed and treated by mental health specialists since it might affect how they develop emotionally and socially in the long run. Therapeutic therapies that concentrate on fostering trust, enhancing attachment styles, and addressing the disorder’s underlying causes are frequently used as part of treatment.

What causes attachment disorder reactive?

Infants and young children need a stable, nurturing environment to feel safe and build trust. Carers must regularly attend to their fundamental emotional and physical needs. For instance, when a baby cries, the need for comfort, food, or a nappy change must be answered with a shared emotional exchange that might include making eye contact, smiling, and sometimes even giving the baby a gentle touch. A kid does not learn to expect care or comfort from carers or develop a strong attachment to them when their needs are not satisfied or when they are addressed with a lack of emotional response. Why some infants and kids experience reactive attachment disorder while others do not is unclear.

What exactly is adult reactive attachment disorder?

If treated, reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which prevents children from developing strong relationships with their primary carers, can last into adulthood. Detachment, disengagement, trouble maintaining relationships, lack of emotional expression, control problems, angry outbursts, impulsivity, and distrustfulness are all symptoms of RAD. These signs can have a significant negative impact on a person’s capacity to form meaningful connections and can lead to drug misuse and mental health issues. When combined with the appropriate therapy and support, treatment for RAD in conjunction with substance use disorders is easily accessible and extremely effective. Getting help may result in a better, more fulfilled quality of life.

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD), the most severe form of attachment disorder, ranges in severity from minor issues that can be readily resolved. When a kid has reactive attachment disorder, they are unable to form a secure bond with their parent or primary carer. Because of the early life disruptions experienced by children with RAD, future relationships will also be hampered. They frequently have developmental delays and may have trouble relating to others. Children who have experienced abuse, been moved around in foster care, lived in orphanages, or been removed from their primary carer after developing a link are more likely to suffer from reactive attachment disorder.

What are the symptoms of attachment disorder reactive?

Every element of a child’s life and development can be impacted by RAD. When RAD is present in newborns and early children, they may:

  • Not display the spectrum of emotions you might expect while responding to others.
  • Not expressing conscience-related feelings like regret, guilt, or remorse
  • Making no eye contact
  • Refrain from physical contact, especially with carers
  • Tantrums, or act irrationally, disrespectfully, or with a greater propensity for conflict than is typical for their age and circumstance.
  • Being unhappy or depressed without a reason

As kids get older, their RAD frequently develops into one of two patterns: inhibited or disinhibited.

Attachment disorder reactive: How is the diagnosis?

Due to the diagnostic complexity of RAD, a thorough diagnostic evaluation by a qualified mental health professional with a focus on differential diagnosis is thought to be required. In addition to sharing many symptoms with RAD, other illnesses such as conduct disorders, oppositional defiant disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social phobia are frequently comorbid with or mistaken for it, which results in both over- and under-diagnosis.

Additionally, psychiatric conditions like autism, pervasive developmental disorder, pediatric schizophrenia, and several genetic abnormalities can be mistaken for RAD. The quick physical recovery of infants with this ailment following hospitalization allows them to be separated from those who are suffering from organic sickness. Children with autism are most likely to be of average height and weight, and they frequently display some degree of intellectual handicap.

What are the treatments for attachment disorder re-actively?

There are two key objectives for RAD treatment. The first step is to make sure the child is in a secure setting. This is crucial in situations where the child has experienced abuse or neglect. The second objective is to support the youngster in creating a positive bond with a suitable caregiver. The carer is frequently the focus of treatment for RAD. Counseling may be used to address problems that are influencing the caregiver’s interactions with and treatment of the child. Teaching parenting techniques can also help the relationship and attachment grow.  Play therapy is another possible form of therapy. This method enables the child and the carer to communicate their ideas, anxieties, and needs within the secure environment of play.

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In conclusion, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a complicated disorder that is linked to early events, especially the absence of secure and caring connections. Its symptoms may appear as poor social behavior and emotional control. The development of strong social and emotional bonds between the child and their caregivers is frequently the goal of effective treatment, which frequently includes therapy with attachment-based interventions and support for both parties. To address RAD and aid those affected to create secure and reliable connections, early diagnosis and intervention are essential.


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