There is a lot of controversy around the diagnosis of reactive attachment disorder, commonly called RAD. There are some who believe this is a completely invalid diagnosis, and others feel it is misleading or incomplete. While I follow the debate with great interest, I am not a mental health professional so I do not presume to weigh in as such.
Instead, I focus on where there is broad agreement: Early childhood trauma has tragic long-term effects including symptoms of difficulty forming attachments with caregivers and extreme behaviors. These damaged children are fearful, unhappy, and desperately need our help to heal and thrive.
My son, Devon, was diagnosed with RAD by a licensed clinician at 11-years-old. Mental health professionals diagnose RAD based on the criteria in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is a handbook containing the descriptions, symptoms, and diagnostic criteria for mental disorders. You can review the DSM-IV RAD information here. Devon’s RAD diagnosis has since been reaffirmed by two full psychological evaluations. He’s been evaluated by psychiatrists and received a neurological exam.
Regardless of what we call it, Devon and other children like him suffer the effects of early childhood trauma. As an advocate for him, and in trying to raise awareness of this issue, I’ve taken the pragmatic approach of accepting language of RAD and focusing on the practical issues related to parenting and supporting these children.