I overheard a conversation between the two bio brothers the other day. Brother #1, diagnosis include Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, had accused his brother of pinching him or something as he walked by. Brother #2, who is pretty much healed from his attachment issues, with his voice cracking with obvious pain, said “Why do you accuse of things I didn’t do? You’re breaking my heart! Completely breaking my heart!”
Not only was the emotion real for this tween boy confessing to his brother how he felt, he did so in front of several neighborhood children, his peers, who were just as likely to take this confession, this vulnerability, and use it against him, ridicule him. He didn’t care. That moment, he was in pain because of his brother’s actions, and he expressed it. I was proud of him for doing so, especially in the circumstances, and my heart for him, because his pain was so obvious.
When we first brought them home, at 3 and 4 years of age, the older one was the problem child. He fought, he destroyed, he spit, he swore at us, he threw things. He cried at night and refused comfort. We were helpless to alleviate any of his pain. What’s worse, we didn’t speak his language. We did our best, but we were afraid he was broken. The younger one was happy, laughing, seemed to immediately adjust and had no problems at all. What little we knew…. After a year, the older one worked through his pain and his issues, and settled down, and began to accept being part of a new family. He had struggles, sure, he had reservations about attaching to us, but the major battle was over. Now as a tween that attachment battle is won, he wants to be part of our family, he claims us as his own, and he’s dealing with adoption/abandonment/anger issues that he still needs to work through. That, and the issues with little brother. Little brother, on the other hand, angelic, smiling, laughing… never attached. It was an act. Looking back, I can see the times of mommy shopping, I can see the switch when h realized the cuteness wasn’t working to get his way anymore and he started looking for new parents, and began to be seriously destructive at home. Looking back, it’s textbook, it’s obvious, it’s clear as day. But at the time, we’d never heard of such a thing. Sure, we knew about Reactive Attachment Disorder, but this kid was huggy, always on your lap – that wasn’t how they described RAD!
Eight years in, I’ve met families early in their journey, who have the feeling that there’s something “not quite right” with their adopted child. They can’t put a finger on it, but things don’t feel right. The hugs feel fake, the kisses feel overdone, and after awhile, you just want them to leave you alone. I tell them they’re probably right, the hugs are fake, it is an act, and their child hasn’t bonded, and they need to seek help, learn about attachment, etc. Even now with the changes to the DSM the “gregarious previously known as RAD” is given barely a glance, as if the fakeness makes it all ok. It’s not given anywhere near the time and energy in the textbooks as the inhibited RAD child. And so few therapists are well versed in RAD at all, much less this side of the spectrum!
If this is your child, don’t give up. It’s a spectrum, but that doesn’t mean one end is worse than the other and harder to heal, necessarily. Some of the “worst cases” end up healing and some of the easiest behaviorally end up not healing at all. We just can’t judge and have to throw all we can in terms of resources and our time and energy into healing this little soul. Don’t give up. Even if you don’t see the results in their childhood, and they leave at 18, and you think well, we failed…. there’s still hope. The human brain continues to develop and grow until roughly 25-27 years of age. There’s still hope.