Author: Keri

I live in Charlotte, NC with my family and am working on a memoir about raising my adopted son, Devon.

Tips to survive parenting a child with RAD as an introvert

Being the the parent of a child who has Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) as an introvert can be incredibly challenging. Our child’s needs and the extensive interactions we have with service providers leave us drained and unable to recharge. Most days we don’t even have five minutes to ourselves and are bombarded with constant, mostly unpleasant stimuli. By understanding our strengths and needs as introverts, we can better parent our children and better care for our own mental health.

What is an introvert?

We think of the extrovert as the life of the party while the introvert curls up on their couch with a novel. In truth, the extrovert-introvert personality trait exists on a continuum.

These are some common qualities introverts share: 

  • Prefer calm, less stimulating environments
  • Introspective, reflective, and self-aware
  • Need to prepare to spend time in groups and crowds
  • Enjoy small, close circles of friends
  • Lose energy in social settings 
  • Need to spend time alone to recharge
  • Prefer to write/text instead of talking

Being an introvert is often confused with being shy or socially anxious and some introverts do have these personality traits. However, there are many introverts who are not shy and are not socially anxious. 

Playing to your strengths

First, as a fellow introvert, let me say, there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. In fact, one recent study found that introverts are more likely to be successful CEOs. That’s great news for parents of kids with RAD because we sure have our hands full!

So, let’s start by looking at 3 ways we can play to our strengths to be more successful in our role advocating for our children.

  1. Family-team meetings and therapy sessions are full of non-verbal communication and layers of context. TIME Magazine compares an introvert’s observation skills to a “superpower.” As an introvert you have the advantage of excellent observation skills and intuition to gain insight into these highly charged situations and navigate them safely and more effectively.
  2. Frustration, anger, outrage – big emotions – often lead to words we all wish we could take back. When working with service providers this is especially true. Introverts tend to think before they speak and choose their words wisely. Your introvert’s quiet nature is a huge advantage because it will help you be more cautions in your interactions and make you less likely to speak off the cuff.
  3. RAD is a nuanced disorder and untangling any situation with your child, a therapist, CPS person, or teacher can be seemingly impossible. “For an introvert, [active listening] is a natural way of being.”  As an introvert your natural listening skills are a big advantage to enable you to understand what each person is saying and better communicate.

You are your child’s best advocate, and remember that you you bring a lot to the table specifically because you are an introvert.

Tending to your needs

People with introverted personality types have two very specific needs:

  1. They need to mentally prepare for socialization
  2. They need regular alone time to recharge

Our child, their therapist, the parade of service providers, endless appointments, and dealing with extreme behaviors — make meeting these needs impossible. This leads to introverted parents quickly spiraling into depression and hopelessness. They literally have no energy left to draw from because they are running on empty. There is no silver bullet solution and in some cases you may need to consider if RTF is an option. But, there are some ways you can prioritize your needs to protect your mental health and enable you to better meet the needs of your child.

Here are a few simple ideas that worked for me:

  • Start each day with some alone time (even if it’s 5 minutes before you wake up the kids).
  • Use soothing techniques like a deep-breathing exercise or a calming meditation.
  • Pick your battles – know your limits. If letting the kids watch TV gives you some alone time, I say go for it. 
  • Create boundaries with service providers (ask that they schedule all calls ahead of time, or at least text to ask if you’re available before calling).
  • Ask for time to review any documents before you sign them – even if it’s just to buy you time to process the meeting you just had.
  • Take a coffee or soda to meetings so you can take a sip to give you a few seconds to gather your thoughts or get through an awkward moment.
  • Leverage emails. Write notes before phone calls and meetings. Practice, practice, practice.

What has worked for other parents:

“I commandeered a room in our house as ‘mine.’ I give notice before going in that they need to get what they need from me before the door closes. If I’m in there with the door closed, I’m off limits … usually doing yoga or meditating. However, it only works if they’re sleeping (i.e. 5am or 10pm) or if my husband is home.” – Thanks to Allison for this tip!

Are you an introvert? What other ideas do you have for leveraging our strengths and prioritizing our needs while parenting a child with RAD?


Remember to focus on the amazing strengths you bring to the table as an introvert and look for creative ways to meet your needs.

Rejecting Blame and Shame (visualization)

Highly specialized meditations created for moms of kids with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) by professional hypnotherapist, Chel Hamilton.

Visualization

Rejecting blame and shame (5:58)

How to use these meditations

Of course, use these meditations as a tool when you’re in crisis. But you’ll get the most value if you also listen to them when you aren’t in crisis. Each time you let the words and affirmations soak into your mind, you’ll be building your resilience. Bookmark and favorite this page and come back often. Listen until they become a part of your internal strength and come back whenever you need a boost!


Chel Hamilton, is a hypnotherapist, and the host of the popular Meditation Minis podcast which has over 40 million downloads . Find and listen to her other meditations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify. Thank you, Chel, for this incredible gift!


Calm Frustration and Anger (meditation)

Highly specialized meditations created for moms of kids with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) by professional hypnotherapist, Chel Hamilton.

Meditation

Calm Frustration and Anger (9:38)

How to use these meditations

Of course, use these meditations as a tool when you’re in crisis. But you’ll get the most value if you also listen to them when you aren’t in crisis. Each time you let the words and affirmations soak into your mind, you’ll be building your resilience. Bookmark and favorite this page and come back often. Listen until they become a part of your internal strength and come back whenever you need a boost!


Chel Hamilton, is a hypnotherapist, and the host of the popular Meditation Minis podcast which has over 40 million downloads . Find and listen to her other meditations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify. Thank you, Chel, for this incredible gift!


Finding Hope (meditation)

Highly specialized meditations created for moms of kids with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) by professional hypnotherapist, Chel Hamilton.

Meditation

Find hope (9:17)

How to use these meditations

Of course, use these meditations as a tool when you’re in crisis. But you’ll get the most value if you also listen to them when you aren’t in crisis. Each time you let the words and affirmations soak into your mind, you’ll be building your resilience. Bookmark and favorite this page and come back often. Listen until they become a part of your internal strength and come back whenever you need a boost!


Chel Hamilton, is a hypnotherapist, and the host of the popular Meditation Minis podcast which has over 40 million downloads . Find and listen to her other meditations on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify. Thank you, Chel, for this incredible gift!


The BIG little book on Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Just getting started on your RAD parenting journey? This little 99-cent book is literally a BIG bang for your buck!

  • Quick start guide with an introduction to the disorder, how to get your child an evaluation, and next steps.
  • List of over 125 RAD related resources including books, conferences, coaching, blog posts, and support groups.

Available here on Amazon as e-book only!

The 2 must-have books on RAD

Among caregivers of kids with RAD, these are the most popular books available today. Written from the RAD-parenting trenches, instead of an office armchair, they’re full of practical advice and straight-forward truth.

  • Learn all about Reactive Attachment Disorder, how to get an evaluation for your child, and next steps
  • Learn invaluable tips and tricks to navigate the system
  • Lists of organizations that “get it”
  • Free tools to educate family, friends, teachers, and therapists
  • Information on online support groups, retreats, coaching, and more
  • Includes list of over 125 Resources

What Readers Are Saying

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Great resource

This book has great suggestions. A pretty quick read with lots packed into it ! importantly it has compiled so many resources in one place for us to plug into. Links to blogs, rad advocates, book suggestions and more. It will take me says to checkout all of these resources listed. I loved the sample letter to a therapist and letter to friends and family to help explain how you are struggling. So helpful as so many parents feel shame and try to hide what’s going on

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Excellent book

This is the clearest, most honest book on Reactive Attachment Disorder I have read. Williams presents what is known about RAD—by experts, other RAD parents, and her own experience—in an easily-read format and style. She writes hopefully but also honestly, realistically, and unflinchingly.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Clear, practical advice for RAD parents

The place is awesome with attending staff. Excellent and authentic flavors. Will surely visit this place again. It also is an excellent place to have a business conversation. We really recommend this restaurant.

USAToday: Broken Adoptions

For tens of thousands of children in the U.S., their ‘forever family’ doesn’t last long. USA TODAY investigates: Why do adoptions fail? USAToday May 19, 2022

In a first of its kind investigation USAToday investigates how many adoptions are disrupted and why. Usually the focus of these conversations is on lack of access to mental health treatment. Indeed this is “a” problem, but it isn’t the only problem. This conclusion misses the underlying issue of childhood trauma and fails to recognize that even with access, effective treatments do not exist.

USAToday’s comprehensive study has taken a more nuanced view and discovered what many adoptive families already know. The mental health system does not have effective treatments for complex mental health treatments for many of the problems children suffering from early childhood trauma have. This leads to thousands of disrupted adoptions every year. This is a pivotal study and article because it brings to light this hidden crisis in the adoptive community.

Read the series here.

Press Release

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


BUT, HE SPIT IN MY COFFEE
WINS 2022 INDIEREADER DISCOVERY AWARD FOR BEST NEW BOOK IN NON-FICTION

June 1st, 2022 – On Wednesday June 1st, IndieReader, one of the original review services for self, hybrid and independently published authors, announced the winners of the eleventh annual IR Discovery Awards (IRDAs) for 2022. BUT, HE SPIT IN MY COFFEE by KERI WILLIAMS OF NORTH CAROLINA won in the BEST FIRST BOOK in the NON-FICTION category.

IndieReader launched the IRDAs in 2011 to help notable indie authors receive the attention of top publishing professionals, with the goal of reaching more readers. Noted Amy Edelman, author and founder of IR, “The books that won the IRDAs this year are not simply great indie books; they are great books, period. We hope that our efforts via the IRDAs ensure that they receive attention from the people who matter most. Potential readers.”

Past and present sponsors for the IRDAs include Amazon, Reedsy, Smith Publicity and NY-based literary agents Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. Judges have included publishers (from Penguin Group USA and Simon & Schuster), agents (from ICM, Dystel), publicists (from Smith Publicity), and bloggers (from GoodeReader).

BUT, HE SPIT IN MY COFFEE received was the following verdict by IndieReader’s reviewers:

“BUT, HE SPIT IN MY COFFEE, Keri Williams’ gripping memoir of adopting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), is a heartbreaking portrait of a family in crisis—and the child welfare and mental health systems that fail them again and again. Presented with raw, unguarded candor and masterful storytelling skills, BUT, HE SPIT IN MY COFFEE is a harrowing and unforgettable reading experience.”


# # #

The Adoption and Fostering Podcast: Adoption Conversations – Keri

Be sure to follow The Adoption and Fostering Podcast for more great content and information around adoption and foster care. http://www.alcoates.co.uk/p/the-adoption-fostering-podcast.html

But, He Spit in my Coffee: A reads-like-fiction memoir about adopting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

2022 IndieReader Discovery Award Winner
16th National Indie Excellence Award Winner 

Available in paperback, ebook, and Audiobook.
The gripping and heart wrenching true story of a desperate mother who must grapple with impossible choices as her young son becomes too dangerous to live at home but is only growing bigger, stronger, and more violent while in treatment.

When Keri and her husband adopt Devon, he has concerning behaviors, but she’s confident all he needs is the love of a “forever family.” Devon’s hidden history of early childhood trauma quickly takes center stage when Devon throws screaming fits, yanks his bedroom door off its hinges, chases his classmates with a knife, and pushes his younger brother down the stairs and viciously karate-chops him in the throat. When Devon is admitted to a psychiatric residential treatment facility at age 10 and is diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Keri is faced with an impossible choice—Devon is too dangerous to live at home, but he’s not getting better in treatment. Keri must race against time to find help for Devon and keep her other children safe, as he grows bigger, stronger, and more violent.

Based on a shocking true story, this reads-like-fiction memoir exposes the dysfunctions of the child welfare and mental health systems and how they fail kids with RAD and their families.

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?

Also published on The Mighty

I visualize my son’s mental disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), as a tug-of-war. If I tell him to wear blue socks, he’ll wear white. If I make his favorite sandwich, he’ll toss it in the trash and tell his teacher I didn’t send him with lunch. If I ask him to write his spelling words three times, he won’t even pick up his pencil. And there’s no negotiation. If I compromise and ask him to write them only once, he’ll still refuse.

No matter how inconsequential or mundane the issue is, my son treats everything as though it’s a tug of war, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. For him it’s a life-or-death battle. He must win at all costs – no matter how long it takes, and despite any consequences he’s given or any rewards he’s promised.

Kids with RAD have an indefatigable need to control the people and situations around them because they only feel safe when they prove to themselves they are in control. To understand this, we must go back to the underlying causes of the disorder.

What causes RAD?

RAD is caused by adverse childhood experiences (also called ACES) that occur during the first five years of a child’s life. This is when their rapidly developing brain is most vulnerable.

In my son’s case, he was neglected before we adopted him out of foster care at the age four. Other ACES include witnessing domestic violence, having a substance addicted parent, and losing a primary caregiver.

These experiences can cause “developmental trauma,” a term coined by leading trauma expert and researcher Bessel van der Kolk. Depending on the timing, duration, and severity of the adversity, a child can be affected in two key ways.

  1. Stuck in chronic survival mode. The fight-flight-freeze is not meant to be our “normal.” Its purpose is to kick in to keep us safe from danger. When kids are chronically abused and neglected, their brains are chronically bathed in adrenaline. As a result, they may begin to default to fight-fight-freeze even in minimally threatening situations. These kids can be hypervigilant and seem to overreact.
  2. Interrupted brain development. Our brain develops sequentially beginning with the primitive brain which controls our basic functions including our breathing and heart rate. The limbic brain comes next and regulates behavior, emotions, and attachment. The cortical brain – where critical, abstract, and cause-and-effect thinking live – comes online last. When kids experience chronic trauma, their brain may not develop properly. These kids can be dysregulated and lack high-level thinking skills.

The impact of developmental trauma is on a spectrum with a variety of symptoms and severity. This is closely related to stage of the child’s brain development at the time the trauma occurred. Unfortunately, there is no single diagnosis that covers all the symptoms of developmental trauma. Children are often given multiple diagnoses including Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and RAD.

What is RAD?

RAD is a diagnosis given to children who have experienced chronic developmental trauma before the age of five and did not form at healthy attachment to a primary caregiver, usually their mother. They grow up without an inherent sense of being safe and loved. Instead their psyche internalizes the message they must take care of themselves because no one else will.

The world feels alarmingly unsafe and unpredictable – and that’s why they lock into a tug-of-war with their primary caregiver. Remember too, these children may be “stuck” in survival mode. They may literally perceive an innocuous situation as threatening and kick into fight-flight-freeze mode. Their higher-level brain functions like cause-and-effect thinking may be underdeveloped. This is why they cannot be reasoned with or talked down.

How to end the tug of war

As a parent, the constant tug-of-war, is exhausting, frustrating, and discouraging. Our impulse is often to tug our side of the rope even harder – to teach our child who is boss. We dole out consequences and insist on compliance. They need to learn to respect authority and obey, right? It’s parenting 101.

But traditional parenting backfires spectacularly with kids diagnosed with RAD. They dig in their heels and tighten their grip on their side of the rope. It will inevitably exacerbate the situation and strain the relationship with our child.

It may seem counterintuitive, but to help our child drop his side of the rope, we must first drop ours. This is accomplished by employing therapeutic parenting strategies that prioritize relationship building and focus on the communication and the needs behind the behavior.

Let’s look at how therapeutic parenting can transform the tug-of-war with my son.

  1. When I tell him to wear blue socks, he’ll insist on wearing white. It doesn’t really matter what color socks he wears. I decide to let him make these types of choices whenever possible which enables him to enjoy some sense of control.
  2. He’ll toss his lunch in the trash and tell his teacher I didn’t send one. Perhaps he’s lining up a backup food source because he’s unconsciously afraid I’ll stop feeding him one day. By providing consistent nurturing over time, this need – thus this behavior – will diminish.
  3. Instead of writing his spelling words, he’ll stare at his pencil. I can make this a non-issue by leaving it to his teacher to follow up. If necessary, I can pursue a 504 plan or Individual Education Plan (IEP) to ensure the accommodations he needs to be successful.

And with that, I’ve dropped my side of the rope. We are no longer locked in a tug-of-war.

Of course, it’s easier said than done and takes great patience and perseverance. RAD is a very challenging disorder to manage and there are no quick and easy fixes. A good starting point is recognizing the underlying causes and educating yourself on the therapeutic parenting approach.

RAD Symptoms – which are most common?

Parents of kids diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) are all too familiar with the symptoms. Anecdotally we often list food hoarding, violent outbursts, crazy lying, to name a few. However, there is little research on just how common each of these symptoms are.

The symptoms of RAD fall into three general categories – physical aggression, relational difficulties, and survival based behaviors. This is not surprising given the diagnostic criteria for RAD in the DSM 5. Kids with RAD have experienced chronic neglect or abuse before the age of 5 and did not form a nurturing bond with a primary caregiver.

But which symptoms are most common? To explore this further we collected data on 277 children and analyzed the results of the 236 who have been formally diagnosed with RAD.

The most common symptoms

Based on the survey results these are the most common symptoms for kids diagnosed with RAD.

  • “Crazy Lying” ….89%
  • Superficially charming …..89%
  • Damaging property …..86%
  • Poor boundaries …..85%
  • Stealing ….79%
  • Gorging/Grazing …..77%
  • Violent Outbursts ….77%

Crazy lying is the most common symptom, as many parents of kids diagnosed with RAD might have guessed. This can be as benign – though frustrating – as a kid claiming they had pizza for dinner when they had chicken. Unfortunately, it can also be dangerous. One survey respondents says her 9-year-old son has made continuous false allegations of abuse, to the point she and her husband are now now facing criminal charges. 

Being superficially charming is also a well known hallmark of the RAD diagnosis. One mom says, “I wish our child would treat the family as well as she treats strangers. They think she’s inspirational and cannot understand why she’s currently living in a treatment center.”

While it is disheartening to see these symptoms so common – over 3/4 of kids – it can be reassuring for parents to know they aren’t alone.

Aggressive symptoms

Developmental trauma can result in impaired brain development, depending on the time the trauma occurred. Many of these children have poor impulse control and are disregulated. In addition, chronic abuse they may have heightened their fight-flight response that activates in even minimally threatening situations. This can underpin many aggressive behaviors.

Out of the children studied, 94% exhibit some form of aggression. Here are the detailed results.

Damaging property86%
Violent outbursts77%
Physical aggression to mother71%
Physical aggression to siblings66%
Physical aggression to pets46%
Weaponizing bodily fluids39%
Physical aggression to others37%
Physical aggression to father26%

Worth noting:

  • The most common physical aggression is towards the child’s mother. This is expected because these children see their mother as the nurturing enemy. One mom says, “I survive by being numb to everything. I’m a shell of the person I once was, having no life or spark left in me. I honestly can’t think of one thing I enjoy doing anymore.”
  • The second most common physical aggression is towards siblings. They are often the overlooked victims of the disorder.

See also the results of my survey results on I-CPV (Intentional Child on Parent Violence).

Social Relational symptoms

Children diagnosed with RAD did not form a nurturing bond with a primary caregiver – typically a mother figure. As a result they struggle to know how to form attachments with others. They are often obsessed with their need for control – to combat what feels like an unsafe and unpredictable world – and view relationships as a means to an end.

Out of the children studied, 98% exhibit some form of social relational symptoms. Here are the detailed results.

Crazy lying89%
Superficially charming89%
Lack of boundaries85%
Inappropriate affection65%

Worth noting:

  • These children often have underdeveloped high-level brain functions. Their cause-and-effect thinking, for example, may be impaired or not “on-line.” This likely plays into the “crazy” lying symptomology.
  • These children have an innate sense of insecurity. They are afraid of authentic relationships and don’t know how to attach. They also may view relationships as a means to an end because their basic need to survive trump all.

These types of symptoms can be extremely challenging for the whole family. One parent says, “This has almost ruined our lives.  Our whole family has to go into therapy because of our son.  If it weren’t for the grace of God, we wouldn’t have a family.”

Survival symptoms

Kids with RAD have been neglected and abused. They may have cried in their crib when their belly hurt. Sometimes they were fed, but often they were hit or cried themselves to sleep – still hungry. For a young child who cannot process this, their body absorbs the trauma. They unconsciously learn that the world is unsafe and unpredictable and often their behaviors seem survival based.

Out of the children studied, 98% exhibit some form of survival based behaviors. Here are the detailed results.

Stealing79%
Gorging/Binging/Grazing77%
Potty Issues64%
Food hoarding57%

Worth noting:

  • Kids often hoard even when given free access to food. This behavior is often driven by unconscious food insecurity. Understanding this can help parents better address the behavior.
  • Potty issues may be developmental delays or due to neglect and abuse. Abuse and neglect can cause brain injury that results in developmental delays, and, for example, late potty training. Kids may also choose not to use the toilet because of PTSD type symptoms from abuse.

If you’re a mental health professional reading these survey results, please know how desperately these children need affordable, accessible, effective treatments. Many therapists disregard parents reports of these symptoms because they seem too extreme. These results prove they are not.

If you are a parent, I highly recommend The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting. It’s an excellent practical resource. Check out my review here.

Do these results jibe with your own experience? Drop a note in the comments to let me know.