life on the funny farm

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Adoption Tuesday - Attachment


A difficult thing to understand.

A difficult thing to instill when its roots weren't grown in infancy.

To those not in the know, when a child has needs, and those needs are met by his caregiver, attachment takes place.

For example: Baby is hungry (need). Baby expresses that need by crying. Caregiver meets that need by feeding the baby, even if it's 2 in the morning. Attachment occurs.

But when those needs are not met, over and over and over again, attachment issues are likely to ensue.

Not surprisingly, about a tenth of adopted children will be diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and will have difficulty attaching to their adoptive parents. In fact, going beyond this, without treatment, the RAD child may have difficulty forming love-based relationships throughout his or her life.

Since I have a son with RAD, I'd like to explore this issue a bit further from time to time on this blog.

Mind if I start things off with a sappy metaphor?

The Attachment Tree...

OK, so the attachment tree.

Here's the way I see it:

The parent is the tree that the child turns to for its needs.
The leaves are emotions, and they change as the weather and the seasons change: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, or angry, or frustrated. Regardless of the leaves, though, the tree remains stable, and firmly rooted to the ground. Children with RAD have difficulty with this concept, and will mistake the parent's current emotion for his underlying feelings towards him. In other words, if the parent is angry, the child feels that the parent does not love him.

Now, remember when I mentioned those roots of attachment? Those roots are the underlying love that the parent feels for the child, and they are vital. Without the roots, the tree can't stand.

With luck, even when the tree is gone (ie, the parent has passed on), the roots still remain under ground. Not visible, but present nonetheless as the child continues to feel the love of the parent.

Unfortunately, it generally takes a good long while for the RAD child to be aware that the tree is indeed rooted to the ground. He tries to knock it down, push it over. He waits for the wind to blow it away, as so many other caregivers have gone from his life. Slowly, after many many many attempts to push the tree away, the child becomes aware that the roots hold it in place, and give permanency to its structure.

And he begins to take comfort from the tree. From time to time, since he cannot see the roots, he begins to doubt this permanency, and attempts again to knock the tree down, or to run from its embrace. He may strike it, curse it, but if the tree is strong, it will stand. Over time, the child's doubts in what he cannot see will diminish, and he will strike out against it less, and fold into it for comfort more.

(Tune in next week for more in this series)

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  1. Any time. I wrote it for you, y'know....

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Please help us! Where can I go to get affordable help for my preteen son? It is so frustrating. If he had cancer there would be help and hope at St. Judes but because it is RAD there is nothing for my child. He had another rage episode tonight broke down in despair because of the severe tantrum he had. He feels nothing and noone can help. It is breaking my heart. The counselors we can afford are not trained in RAD and are no help and those who are might as well be living on the moon as much as they cost. Your blog hit home with me. James sounds like my son. We live in a rural area now and that makes it even more difficult. Do you take James to counseling? Your little scenario with James and his dad sounds like many a night in our home. I love how you dealt with it. How do you NOT react?

    1. Gertie, I'm sorry for your struggles. It can be so, so difficult. We have been parenting James for five years now, and although at times everything seems "normal", RAD issues still surface now and again (in fact we're dealing with some right now). I hope you can find a good therapist, as James' has helped him a lot over the years. Just try to not get bogged down in the details of the 'now', and keep the big picture in mind as you deal with him. Sorry I can't be of more help.



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