In this blog on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), we will answer the following questions:
- What is reactive attachment disorder?
- What are the symptoms of reactive attachment disorder in adults?
- Is reactive attachment disorder treatable?
- Is reactive attachment disorder considered a disability?
- Do people with reactive attachment disorder have empathy?
- Is rad a form of autism?
What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder?
Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a rare condition where individuals have difficulties managing their emotions as a result of never forming healthy emotional attachments at an early age with their caretaker, typically due to severe social or emotional neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.
Children’s basic needs, including security, affection, emotional stability, and consistency, must be met at a young age. When a child experiences ongoing invalidation, they struggle to deal with their emotions and develop healthy attachments to others.
What Are The Symptoms Of Reactive Attachment Disorder In Adults?
As outlined by the National Institutes of Health, RAD most commonly manifests in the form of a decreased ability to experience positive emotions, inability to seek or accept physical/emotional support, and adverse reactions to physical touch, specifically being held, cuddled, or comforted. To further break these down, the effects of reactive attachment disorder include the following:
- Delays in developmental milestones
- Delays in physical growth
- Withdrawal from connections
- Challenges with maintaining serious/meaningful relationships
- Inability to show affection
- Anger issues
- Impulse control issues
- Mental health disorders (depression, anxiety, PTSD)
- Personality disorders (BPD, antisocial personality disorder)
- Eating disorders (Anorexia Nervosa, compulsive overeating)
- Difficulty accepting or seeking help or comfort from others
- Difficulty trusting others
- Adverse reactions to physical touch
- Problems in adult relationships
How RAD appears in an individual varies from person to person. Some may show most or all of the following signs and symptoms, while others may only show a few. Regardless of how transparent the condition is, it’s imperative to seek treatment to help with its emotional and mental impacts.
Is Reactive Attachment Disorder Treatable?
Because RAD develops in childhood and how heavily it impacts a person’s mental and emotional state, the effects of the condition can be lifelong without intervention. That said, there are ways to treat the symptoms of it and to help a person develop healthy relationships with themselves and others.
RAD heavily affects the person’s ability to establish healthy connections and environment stability, so one critical approach to treatment is learning how to create these things. How can they make a stable, nurturing environment for themselves? And how can they build and maintain healthy emotional bonds with friends and family?
The specific types of treatment for reactive attachment disorder depend on a person’s individual history and age, but therapists commonly recommend one of the following:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR)
- Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Holistic Therapy
- Mental Health Counseling
People with RAD tend to struggle with trusting and relying on others, making it challenging to develop and maintain relationships. Therapies like EMDR and CBT can focus on the traumatic experiences that led to these issues and begin developing a new mindset and skills for handling negative emotions.
Is Reactive Attachment Disorder Considered A Disability?
Reactive Attachment Disorder is categorized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5th Edition (DSM-5) as a trauma- and stressor-related condition of early childhood caused by social neglect and maltreatment. It’s a part of a cluster of disorders known as “trauma and stressor disorders.” Post-traumatic stress disorder is another disorder belonging to this group.
RAD is not a disability but rather a condition. That said, the effects of RAD can lead to the development of disabilities spending on its severity. RAD can co-exist with disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia and negatively affect a person’s development when left untreated.
Do People With Reactive Attachment Disorder Have Empathy?
In a study by The National Institute of Health, young children and adolescents with high secure attachment showed more empathy than those with low secure attachment. This study concluded that cognitive empathy and affective empathy are related to secure attachment.
RAD develops due to little to no secure attachment in a caregiver or low secure attachment, as stated in the study. With this correlation in mind, a lack of empathy is a common problem in those with reactive attachment disorder.
Is Rad A Form Of Autism?
No, RAD is not a form of autism, but the two conditions may co-exist in a person. People may associate the two disorders with one another due to shared characteristics, such as appearing to have a lack of emotions, poor social and communication skills, and challenges maintaining relationships.
Autism Spectrum Disorder isn’t caused by incidents during childhood and develops while in the womb. A person can be diagnosed with autism and have had a healthy attachment to their caregiver growing up or little to no trauma. RAD, on the other hand, develops due to the adverse events of childhood and poor attachments to the primary caregiver.