What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) F94.1?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) F94.1?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Reactive Attachment Disorder begins early in life.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is one of those disorders which was moved in the DSM-5.

It used to be included in the chapter on Disorders First Diagnosed in Infancy, Childhood, and Adolescence.

RAD now appears in the chapter on Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is the result of deficiencies in early life care.

Reactive Attachment Disorder is an internalizing disorder. A related disorder called Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder involves externalizing behaviors.  Both conditions are thought to be caused by poor caregiving early in life. RAD involves a consistent pattern of shutting down, withdrawing and inhibiting emotions. This disorder starts before age five and is rarely given after that age.

While this is a diagnosis primarily applied to very young children, in working with adults we often see conditions that probably began as Reactive Attachment Disorder.  A common statement is that they “just don’t get close to others.” This condition involves an inability to regulate emotion and unexplained anger, both issues we frequently see in adults who came from dysfunctional homes.

With children, we usually know that the symptoms are caused by neglect and poor parenting.  With adults, similar symptoms show up as depression, chronic sadness, anxiety disorders or even personality disorders.  Our understanding of reactive attachment disorder is pretty much an all or nothing condition.  I can’t help wonder about the effects which varying degrees of neglect or failure to meet the child’s emotional needs might be causing.

Reactive Attachment Disorder involves a consistent behavioral pattern.

Most of the Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders are related to anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders and are fear based. Reactive Attachment Disorder is about shutting down and internalizing. In Reactive Attachment Disorder, there is chronic sadness, depression, and loss of pleasure.  There may also be accompanying anger, aggression, and dissociation. This involves a lot of withdrawal and inhibited emotion.

Reactive Attachment Disorder involves social and emotional problems.

Children with RAD are unresponsive to others.  They’re rarely happy or positive.  RAD involves frequent irritation, sadness and sometimes being afraid. Children with this disorder often react to adult caregivers in a negative way for no apparent reason. These patterns of poor relationships with adults continue even when caregivers change.

In adults, we see similar patterns with those people who get diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder.  They often say they do not ever remember being happy.  What we often don’t know is if this person really had deficient care as a child or if they had a temperament which makes them difficult to parent.  Sick, or irritable temperamental children are harder to parent and more likely to be abused or neglected.

Extremely deficient care results in Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Characteristics of this less-than-adequate care include emotional needs not being met, frequent changes in caregivers, and being raised in impersonal institutionalize settings.  Mostly this deficient care results in poor relationships with caregivers and other adults, but it may also affect peer relationships.

Sometimes other things look like Reactive Attachment Disorder.

Sometimes children with Autism or developmental delays exhibit symptoms that can look like Reactive Attachment Disorder. In young children, it is important to be sure the problems were caused by poor caregiving.  In adults, we see behaviors that we suspect began as Reactive Attachment Disorder, but without a prior diagnosis, we can’t be sure. RAD may affect many other developmental areas.

Some cautions.

As with the other things we are calling a mental illness this RAD needs to interfere with the ability to work, or in children, go to school, relationships, or other enjoyable activities or cause personal distress. Otherwise, there may be issues, but the diagnoses will not be given. If the only time this happens is when someone is under the influence of drugs or medicines or because of some other physical or medical problem these problems would need to be more than the situation otherwise warrants. These other issues may need treating first, then if there are still symptoms, the diagnosis will be given.

Treatment for Reactive Attachment Disorder.

For children, getting into a situation with a caring, responsible, caregiver, can make all the difference.  For adults with problems now, which may or may not be the result of early childhood experiences, there are several therapies which may be helpful.

It is imperative that children who have Reactive Attachment Disorder get treatment early to prevent lifelong difficulties.  Adults who struggle with emotional difficulties may find that they still have early childhood issues that need to be addressed before their adult problems will resolve.

FYI These “What is” sometimes “What are” posts are my efforts to explain terms commonly used in Mental Health, Clinical Counseling, Substance Use Disorder Counseling, Psychology, Life Coaching, and related disciplines in a plain language way. Many are based on the new DSM-5; some of the older posts were based on the DSM-IV-TR, both published by the APA. For the more technical versions please consult the DSM or other appropriate references.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Advertisements

Reactive Attachment Disorder is now a Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Words about PTSD

Stress and Trauma. 
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Reactive Attainment is related to Stress and Trauma but how?

We know children can be affected by reactive attachments but now we are wondering if it might underlie some problems of adults. We know what happens to you growing up can shape and affect you for the rest of your life, how much might reactive attachment disorder be contributing to adult mental health issues?

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) used to be a problem relegated to a special section on childhood issues; it has been moved to the Stress and Trauma section of the new DSM-5. Two things to consider – the way in which this childhood problem may be affecting adults and how might this be another case of how much is it affecting adults rather than a simple yes or no question.

Reactive Attachment is a serious problem for very young children as any Child Protective services worker will tell you. We have a fairly good idea what causes it and some methods of treating it but the long-term consequences seem to get lost when the child reaches the school years and beyond.

Working with adults I see some of these characteristics from time to time. I do not want to minimize the problem in children nor do I think every adult problem should get blamed on childhood experiences. Just the same there are these tendencies we see in adults and I can’t help wondering how many of those adult problems had their roots in childhood experiences.

First the 7 criteria for Reactive Attachment Disorder (very roughly paraphrased from the DSM-5) and along the way some thoughts on how other adult issues may be like this one and may be different from RAD. For the full, precise set of characteristics and diagnostic criteria see the DSM-5.

1. The child is always or almost always is inhibited and withdrawn. They do not go to adults for comfort and when the adult tries they do not appear to be comforted.

2. Low or no social interaction with others, and does not look happy or like they are enjoying themselves. Lots of sadness, irritability, and fear for no good reason.

3. The child has been neglected and did not get their needs met by adults in their life. Parents could not or did not meet the child’s needs or child moved from caregiver to caregiver so much no pattern of care got off the ground. Group settings with too few adults per child can also cause this.

4. We think the lack of care caused the problem. (This can be the tricky one as we may not know what this person’s care was like way back when.)

5. This is not Autism or something like autism (The DSM lists ways to tell these apart.)

6. This started before age 5.

7. The child is developmentally at least 9 months old.

Now if you got all that you should have a picture of what this neglected (maybe also abused) child might look like. This kid could be a very difficult child to raise. The just sit there and look at you.

Most kids we expect to be cute. Give them a toy to play with and they smile. Hug them and the hug you back. Not the child with RAD. This kid cries for no reason and does not stop when you hold them. They never smile and they are always irritable. They jump at the slightest sound and then refuse your touch when you try to comfort them. Getting the picture?

Now the criteria wants us to see and know all this before 5 years and know that the neglect (or abuse) caused this.

What would this child look like in ten or twenty years as they grow up and for some reason first appear in the mental health system?

What might these symptoms look like if it was not an all or nothing situation? Say the parents worked all the time and the child had to fend for themselves. They moved around a lot and had no friends or close family members?

As this person ages, they might live in various group homes. The caregiver would keep changing. They would develop trust issues. They might believe that you can’t rely on others because they will leave you.

In the teen years this child might, still angry, irritable, anxious, act out and get in trouble. These would be the children that blow foster home placements or move from group home to group home. Even if they lived with some family member, grandma or aunt, they would never really get close to that person and eventually, they would “hook up with” a member of the opposite sex and have some more little ones.

Not able to feel cared for they might not be able to care for their own children and they might abuse or neglect the next generation.

While Reactive attachment is an extreme case I think by now you might see how low caregiver contact, abuse, neglect, or frequent changes of living situation could produce some of these characteristics in greater or lesser degree as the child grows to adulthood.

Not knowing or feeling loved is at the core of these problems.

We may well have been underestimating the effects of lifespan issues in our evaluation of adult mental and emotional issues.

People can and do recover from most all forms of mental and emotional disorders, but recovery from Reactive Attachment Disorder is a difficult process.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What kind of person are you? Can people really change?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Change

Change.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Are people just that way or can they change?

There are certain things about you and about others around you that are just the way people are. There are other things that change with time, with the situation and with who you decide to be. The trick is to know what about you is just you and what things are possible to change.

There is a world of difference between being an “angry person” and being angry right now.

Some people think that they are always angry, sad, and so on and this provides a rationale for not trying to change. It also can be an excuse for bad behavior.

Someone in your life gets angry, says or does hurtful things and then later says “that is just the way I am, you know I get angry a lot, deal with it.” It is hard to take that over the long haul. Being always full of negative emotions drives others away.

You may have said that yourself about certain characteristics you see in yourself or others see in you. But is this true or is change possible?

Spoiler alert – I believe people can and do change. They recover from what others have done to them and from what they have done. That change is often not easy and changing may have a price.

One way of understanding this is that who you are and who you can become is the difference between states and traits.

A trait is presumably a stable characteristic.

This can apply to outside characteristics like hair and eye color and to inside qualities like anger or kindness. True you can dye your hair or wear contacts to change your eye color. These efforts to change yourself do not change the underlying you. Some people might say that these efforts fall under the heading of deception or telling lies.

These underlying qualities may change as you get older. One way of explaining this is called gene expression. So the gene that gave someone Black hair in their twenties may give them gray hair in their eighties. Emotional expressions that worked for you at 9 months old will probably not work so well at 90.

Are some people born with particular emotional temperaments? Could you just be born blue-eyed and sad, or brown-eyed and angry? If you were just born that way could you learn to control or regulate those feelings? (CBT therapy and neuroplasticity research tells us this is way more doable that we used to think.)

People are not born with only one feeling. So even the irritable baby who cries a lot sometimes smiles. Angry people have episodes when they are not angry or at least less angry. (Watch for a future post on Reactive Attachment Disorder which talks about the challenges of learning new ways of feeling if you did not learn them at an early age.)

What is causing those feelings to change as situations change?

It is possible for something to “cause” or “trigger” an emotional state. One question that I ask in counseling is “What makes you happy?” And then – “What makes you sad.” Some people can quickly give me lists.

People who say nothing makes me happy, that is a red flag they may have depression.

Research has shown us that the brain continues to grow and create new connections throughout the lifespan. If you learned to be sad or anxious very early in life you can learn new ways of feeling.

Granted if you learn one language as a child and then at eighty try to learn another it is much more difficult but the good part is that no matter what age most people can still learn new information.

Learning to regulate your emotions and to move from an angry state to a calm one is possible if you chose to learn this skill. In fact, you can learn to not get angry in the first place. This does not mean you let people walk all over you and just bite your tongue. You can learn other skills to reduce the causes of your anger also.

If your life is full of anger, anxiety, or sadness you can learn skills to reduce the impact of those feelings on you and to create a new happy life. The cost for this? Some effort on your part and the need to stop making others responsible for how you feel.

To change your emotional life you need to take charge and get to work on new emotional skills. More in upcoming posts on this topic.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.