Letter to Teachers

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If a parent has given you this to read, you are teaching a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder. The family of this child has apparently decided to share this information with you. That sharing is a big step for this family and one you have to treat gently and with the respect it deserves. This family has been through traumas you cannot even imagine. I will describe a few of them here below so that you get the "flavor" and perhaps even begin to understand why this child's parents sometimes seem so harsh or harried or even depressed.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is most common in foster and adopted children but can be found in many other so-called "normal" families as well due to divorce, illness or separations. RAD happens when a child is not properly nurtured in the first few months and years of life. The child, left to cry in hunger, pain or need for cuddling, learns that adults will not help him or her. The child whose parent(s) are more involved in getting their next drug fix than they are in nurturing the developing child learns that his or her needs are not primary to adults. Children born of drug or alcohol addicted parents learn even in the womb that things do not feel good and are not safe for them. In severe cases, where the child was an abuse or violence victim, the child learns adults are hurtful and cannot be trusted. The RAD child therefore develops habits of dealing with the world in a way she believes will keep her safe. He manipulates in order to control a world he literally thinks will kill him if he does not control it. Without therapy RAD kids never develop the attachments to another human being which teach them to trust, accept discipline, develop cause and effect thinking, self-control and responsibility for their own actions.

RAD children are often involved in the Juvenile Justice System as they get older. Left untreated, such children can maim, kill and torture without conscience or feeling. They can start fires, kill pets and terrorize their families. It has been said that untreated RAD children grew up to be such persons as Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, Adolph Hitler, the teenagers who shot up Columbine High. They feel no remorse, have no conscience and see no relation between their actions and what happens as a result because they never connected with or relied upon another human being in trust their entire lives. They attempt to become their own parent with predictable results.

What you will see as a teacher is a child who is, initially, surprisingly charming to you, even seeking to hold your hand, climbing into your lap, smiling a lot, you're delighted you are getting on so well with him/her. At the onset of your contact with the child who has been reported from prior grades as "impossible" you will wonder what those previous teachers did to provoke the behaviors you have not (yet) seen but which are reflected in the prior grade reports. A few months into what you thought was a working relationship the child is suddenly openly defiant, moody, angry and difficult to handle; there is no way to predict what will happen from day to the next; the child eats as if he hasn't been properly fed and is suspected of stealing other children's snacks or lunch items; the child does not seem to make or keep friends; the child seems able to play one-on-one for short periods, but cannot really function well in groups; the child is often a bully on the playground; although RAD kids typically have above average intelligence they often do not perform well in school due to lack of problem solving and analytical thinking skills; they often test poorly – often deliberately.

Credits: Used with permission from the author

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