RAD Dictator

RAD kids going to church
RAD kids going to church

For starters, what is RAD and what does it look like… RAD is reactive attachment disorder. It means the child does not emotionally invest in any, yep any, relationships normally. It is often caused by traumatic events, but not always. It means the child behaves externally as through they care about someone, as in having a lot of casual friends, but they are not bothered when those friends leave them. As a parent it looks like my child being willing to leave the house without anything to go away forever with someone they just met.

As a mom I have been called all kinds of names from cold to dictator. I admit I am very strict although that has not been my natural temperament. In 2009 I adopted 3 sons. Now don’t get me wrong, I adore them, but they are challenging in ways I could not have imagined at the time. In church and at school I have been known to warn a new adult that they need to be strict with my child because of these special needs or they will be walked all over. They politely nod as I speak and then disregard my explanation completely. Shortly thereafter, they arrive with teary eyes to present me with my child with the note that my child has trampled on their feelings. I thank them for bringing me the child, who then must behave perfectly while sitting next to me for the duration of the time allotted to such event. I try again the next day or week.

My boys have RAD. They have been so broken by emotional relationships at such a deep level that they are unwilling to let their guard down and allow themselves to be emotionally vulnerable. What most people see when they look at my boys are three perfectly normal kids, albeit a little fidgety ones. They behave oddly for no apparent reason, at least it seems this way. Not to be cruel, but from the inside the explanation goes, they don’t care about you. Honestly. They don’t care about me either. I’m who they go to for hugs, rarely snuggles, or social help.

However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER,  I am judged. Never would I get told as the parent of a child with a withered arm that the arm is a result of my behavior. There is no fault here. So I do what they need me to, not what they want me to, just like I refuse to feed them cake for breakfast.

What do RAD kids need? First of all structure, then structure, and finally you guessed it structure. That word has become synonymous with cruel, but it’s really not. They are frightened when they don’t know what’s coming next. So life has to be really predictable. We get up at 7 am. yep even on the weekends. We eat breakfast before 7:30, even on vacation. Lunch is at noon. Always. and dinner has to happen between 5-5:30. Bedtime is at 7:30 summer and winter.

Why? because they already swim in an ocean of overwhelming emotions. As with the average adult less sleep means exhaustion, and with exhaustion comes irrationally hard to manage emotions. Once those are on board every little thing is too hard to deal with. Something as small as a half hour less sleep, when coupled with an unexpected guest, and sometimes an expected one, leads to a breakdown. This does not happen every time, but it happens often enough that we know to avoid it, for all our sakes. Some times my guest doesn’t understand. Sometimes I do not realize they got up for a half hour in the middle of the night.

As with all things, good moms keep life as close to sanity as possible, so we dictate sleep and meals.

My kids have anxiety over toys and clothes in their rooms, so they live in the middle of the living room. They struggle with school, freak out their teachers, and make a mess, so I homeschool. They react poorly to some foods, so we avoid them. None of that means anything more than I see and address the needs of my children to the best of my ability. Still all of it makes us weird and isolates me. I have to explain all these things over and over. I have to explain the Spartan rooms. I have to cheerfully decline invitations to one on one events, since they will think they are moving.  Explain, apologize, repeat.

So here it is. I’m sorry my kids aren’t normal. I’m sorry my son kicked you in church when he thought you were going to take him home. I am sorry they tick differently. I am sorry it makes you uncomfortable. Thanks for being nice to me all the same. I do need friends. Thanks for your patience. We are struggling up a mountain, learning as we go. My best may look mean, impatient, harsh, angry, but… I’m acting out of love, with the best skills I’ve accrued from years of facing this fight. Input is allowed when it is couched in understanding and love. Criticism is not. I am already hard on myself, I don’t need help.

4 thoughts on “RAD Dictator

  1. housefullofscales

    Amryn, Amryn, Amryn. Brilliant writing. From the heart and on point, as usual. Thank you for sharing your world with us. It is a very difficult one. I have no idea how you deal with RAD on a daily basis, and am flabbergasted by your strength and honesty. I, for one, am grateful to call you friend, and to learn from you. Keep up the good fight, my friend! I love you!!

  2. I SOOOO needed this today! My son is adopted. He was adopted at birth, and although he doesn’t have a diagnosis of any kind (besides sensory processing disorder), I experience much of what you described. We also homeschool, because he freaks out on other people. For seemingly no reason. Just today my MIL just HAD to tell me AGAIN how he needed to go to school and needed time away from me and blah blah blah…. sigh. My mom thinks I’m way too harsh and “mean” in her words. sigh. I have not yet found anyone who can help us at all. Doctors do not understand. I cannot seem to find a therapist who is educated in adoption related issues. Your post has encouraged me in so many ways. Thank you thank you thank you!!!!!

  3. Jessica Tart

    Wow! You put so nicely the struggle I too am going through. I saw an analogy once that compared a RAD kid to a kid having diabetes. On the outside they look the same. But you wouldn’t give a child with diabetes a slice of cake just because another kid got one. People understand that. They don’t understand RAD. They don’t understand why you have to hold to the rules so stringently. I too feel judged all the time. Once even by a parent with a RAD child!! I applaud you for taking on 3 kids! What a strong woman you are. I once asked my child if she ever felt sorry and she said No. I still struggle with having everything planned out because that’s what she needs but that is not in my nature.
    Anyway – I know you are blessed, even if sometimes you don’t feel it. Thanks for writing such a great article!

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