Reactive Attachment Disorder


For those who are concerned about adopted children diagnosed with “reactive attachment disorder” this brief article has been culled from some of Reb’s correspondence.



The following is a textbook definition of what is often called “reactive attachment disorder”:


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a condition in an individual which typically develops early in childhood in response to rejection, abandonment, neglect, or abuse. It is a condition in which individuals have difficulty forming loving, lasting, intimate relationships. Attachment disorders may vary in severity, but the term is usually reserved for individuals who show a nearly complete lack of ability to be genuinely affectionate and/or bond with others.


I have observed that there are children, many adopted and in foster care, who respond to severe childhood experiences by one means of self-protection or another. Out of self-preservation a few retreat into themselves and become autistic in their outlook. Others, who have faced various aspects of rejection, may grow a callous over their hearts in an effort to cease to “feel” their pain. Still others protect themselves by “detaching” from their emotions, and subconsciously avoid close relationships.


The fruit of such reactions is to develop individuals who often seem to lack a conscience in regards to others.  Adoptive parents of such children are often perplexed, and at a loss. They know their child has been through horrible rejection, but are uncertain as to what expectations they should have. They know their child needs discipline as well as love, but they are uncertain how to give it in balance.  The problem is compounded for them when the “experts” have told them their child has a psychological condition which may take years to be cured, if it will go away at all.


For us as believers, we must let God be our final authority. It is man and not God who creates labels for human behavior. From God’s perspective people are people, and we each grow up to behave according to how our inherited personality traits caused us to react to environmental influences. Labels are merely human efforts to understand and categorize behavior, rooted in the false idea that exceptions are to be made and special treatment must be given to each according to his diagnosis.


Parents can rest assured that the child training principles in the Bible are perfect for the rearing of all children, including those with “special needs”.  We need not look to experts in human wisdom in order to know how to raise children. God considers human wisdom foolishness.


Ps 1:1  Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

1 Cor 1:20  Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

1 Cor 3:19  For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight. As it is written: "He catches the wise in their craftiness"; 20  and again, "The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile."


The basis of RAD appears to be that children who have faced rejection, isolation, or abuse subconsciously try to minimize emotional pain by hardening their hearts against others. In their proclivity toward self-preservation they become highly self-focused and apathetic toward others. In their efforts to “not care” they fail to develop a conscience.


Scripture addresses the behaviors associated with RAD. Those who do not love, need to be loved (1 John 4:19). Tender parental concern will be far more powerful than harsh parenting.  Parents still need to require their children to obey them, and discipline must be administered faithfully, but parental anger and an attitude of intolerance will undermine training efforts. A child’s tendency to mistrust others will be broken by faithful and enduring acceptance. A wise parent will use this approach not just with RAD children, but with all children.


Those who desire help in this area of parenting should call our order line and request a series called “Beyond Obedience: Raising children who love God and others.”  It covers these ideas thoroughly.