Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and concern about future stepson


New Member
Hi, All,

I've been reading through a lot of threads on this site and while it breaks my heart to see so many people dealing with so many of the same issues I'm seeing in my future stepson, I'm also thankful that I'm not alone. I know what I'm about to share is nothing new, but I'm trying to figure out where to go from here and would love some advice from those who've 'been there, done that.'

My fiancé adopted his son with his ex-wife when T was a little over 4 years old. T had been removed from his birth home because his birth mom wasn't mentally capable of being a healthy mom. T was placed in foster care just before his first birthday. It was in that foster care home that he was abused in every way possible. He remained in that home until he was 4 and placed in my fiancé's home. My fiancé and his ex divorced about 4 years ago and then about 2 years ago she sent T to live with my fiancé permanently because she doesn't want T to be in her home anymore.

T is now 10. He's been diagnosed with ADD and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). When he's in a good place, he's a sweet, 'normal' 11 year old kid...chatty, energetic, engaging, and kind of all that comes with being that age. But then, for whatever reason or no reason at all, that sweet kiddo disappears and this child, who quite frankly scares me, appears and we don't know what else to do. His behaviors range from stealing to hoarding food (which I know is typical behavior for kids who'd been in the foster care system and abused) to hitting himself to stabbing himself with pens to threatening suicide to breaking everything in his room to screaming (and I mean screaming) at the top of his lungs for hours on end to making animal noises because they're just terrible after an hour to burping and farting over and over and over again to throwing things at you to cussing you out and using language that isn't even heard on HBO to spitting on everyone/everything and more. He told his principal that he wanted to kill him, cussed out the bus driver yesterday, and is a bully at school. Then there's the manipulative stuff, that look that he gets when he thinks he's smarter than everyone else in the room and can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants just because he wants to. He's started to sneak out of the house and go on what he calls "adventures". His most recent "adventure" found him walking over 6 miles to/from a friend's house (a classmate his father doesn't know) without us knowing where he was; the police were called and an Amber alert was put out for him when he came strolling back up as if nothing was wrong and thought we were all crazy for overreacting. He meets strangers on these adventures and tells them everything about himself and where he lives, etc.

He's spent some time around my niece (5) and my nephew (1.5) and it leaves me uneasy to watch him with them. I can't put my finger on it. My fiancé and I would like to have children together, but truthfully, the thought of having a baby around T scares me. What if he does something to the baby? Then, there's myself...I think about what would happen if it's just him and myself at home once his dad and I get married. He's only 10, but he's currently 5'2. His doctor thinks he may be as tall as 6'8 or more given the size of his feet and rate of growth. He's going to be a big guy. And someday, he will be bigger than me. Yesterday, for the first time ever, he raised his fist against his dad. He didn't strike him, but he made like he wanted to. What if he does that to me someday? Or what if, like some of the other threads I've read, his behavior turns towards the sexual as he grows up and matures that way?

I know that in light of some of the other stuff I've read on threads, his behaviors may seem mild, but it's not even just the things that he does....but it's the way he is. There's no remorse or thought given beyond himself. And I know that's Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and all, but we're at our wits ends. We don't know where else to get help. His therapists, and there have been several, don't seem to know what to do with him...and nothing's really changed. He was in an inpatient facility for about a month this past spring after his threats of suicide and stabbing himself with a pencil and after he got out, he seemed to be doing better, but then he regressed. So, all this very long way to say....where do we look for help? How do we find a therapist who specializes in Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)? I love my fiancé and I want to be a part of T's life, I want to be the female that "sticks" by him and fights for him and I don't want to be afraid of the what ifs.....but I don't know what to do or how to do that at this point.

Thank you!!!

Wiped Out

Well-Known Member
Staff member
First off welcome to our corner of the world. I'm glad you found us but sorry you needed to. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is so extremely difficult. It is scary and I can understand your worries about having other children. I'm glad that you have him in therapy; I would definitely continue with that. Is he seeing a specific Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapists? If not, I would definitely find one that specializes to see what his thoughts are on everything.

I believe Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is definitely a spectrum and it sounds like you are dealing with so much. I hope you are taking care of yourself through all of this. I'm sure others will follow with more advice. Sending gentle hugs your way.


New Member
Thanks, Wiped Out, for the encouragement.

As far as I know, the therapist he's currently seeing isn't a specific Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapist. I've been trying to look into finding one in our city that specializes in treating kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), but thus far I keep coming up empty handed for one reason or another. We live in a city of 500,000, but at the same time, it feels so small when looking for help with this. I would love to find a therapist who involves other therapies beyond just sitting there and talking because it's so easy for T to figure out what the adult wants to hear. I've been reading more and more about play therapy and art therapy and how they've worked well, but haven't found anyone yet who is doing that here.


Roll With It
I am so sorry. I know you love your fiance and he loves T. But I hope you know that even with the most intensive Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapies, there really are no great changes unless the child wants them. Some experts don't even think they are possible then. I have heard some say that unless trust is built the first few years of life, it cannot be really built ever later in life.

There have been parents of very abused kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) here on this site in the past. I cannot recall even a single case where the kids grew up and were okay. One member here adopted a kid with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) adn then found he was hurting her other kids and they had to end the adoption. I know they hated the situation, but then they found out the boy was doing really horrific things to their other kids and threatening them so they wouldn't tell.

You really need a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) expert because as smart as T seems, all he is going to do with other therapists is learn the lingo and learn to tell them what they want to hear. But Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapists are not everywhere. You might look online and then ask Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapists you find online if they know of anyone in your area.

I think you are right to be afraid of what will happen when he gets older. A preteen or teen doesn't have the ability to regulate his emotions and some normal kids will lash out. But you are not talking about a normal teen, you are talking about a kid with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and this means that there will be little to stop the violence that you are already seeing.

Please, I am begging you to not leave him with younger kids. In kids who were sexually abused, esp kids with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), it is not uncommon for them to act out what they have experienced. I know you would feel hideous if T were to hurt your niece or nephew this way. Chances are the youngest child couldn't even tell yo it was happening, so it is up to you to make sure she is protected at every moment. This means you don't leave them alone to answer the phone or to go to the bathroom, and no, I don't think that is over-reacting. Not even if T seems to be having a good day.

I know this isn't fair, but life isn't fair. I had an older child who hurt his little sister. We had a very different diagnosis, and now they are good friends, but we spent at least 7 years where I could not leave them alone in the same room long enough to go to the bathroom. I know the stress of this lifestyle.

I know you love your fiance, but be aware that this is going to get worse a very long time before it gets better, if it ever gets better. Think long and hard about what you really want for your future because the time to make decisions is now, before the wedding. Love isn't going to be enough to fix this. It just isn't. T's brain may not be capable of changing - we don't really know. There are going to be a lot more bad days than good, and hard times than easy ones. Therapy for this isn't cheap and once a week probably isn't going to be enough. Can you afford that? What about when you hit the max your insurance will pay for? Starting and stopping therapy isn't helpful. Inpatient treatment and therapeutic boarding schools are incredibly expensive, often more than what most people make in a year. It is hard to have a child help inpatient for more than a short period of time, often more than 3-5 days is a pipedream. It took finding my oldest choking my daughter in her bed in middle of the night to get my son into a psychiatric hospital for more than a couple of very useless days. This was over ten years ago and funds have been cut and cut and cut each year so that now I don't think even that would be enough to get him placed inpatient.

Please think about what you are willing to live through for the next few years. A child like T will make even the best relationship into a very difficult situation. You are not T's adoptive mom and will have zero legal rights to make ANY decisions for his care. You will likely be the one most impacted by his behavior, but you won't have ANY ability to make any decisions about anything to do with him. Being smaller than his father, he will likely aim his violence at you first and that will be scary.

I don't say any of this to be mean. I just think you need to think long and hard before you are in a situation that ends up meaning it isn't safe to have your own child BEFORE you are fully in that situation. Maybe you will be the one family where love will be enough, or maybe a breakthrough will come soon, but I just don't have that kind of faith.


New Member
Thank you, Susie for your response. I really do appreciate it. I know you're not saying any of this to be mean, and truthfully, you're not saying anything I haven't said to myself a thousand times already. I think that's partly why I posted here. I want to go into this with my eyes completely wide open and armed with as much knowledge as possible beforehand. And you're right, decisions made now are easier (not easy, yes, but easier) than later.

I did do some research today and last night and found at least one Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) therapist in our city. I've contacted her office, so hoping to hear back from her to see if she's accepting new patients. We shall see.

I truly do thank you for your post. I have so much to consider and pray about and think about....


Well-Known Member
I adopted a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) child. He sexually abused my young kids and they were too scared of him to say anything. And he had adults fooled completely.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is dangerous and often not treatable.

The child we adopted had to leave. He also stole, killed two of our dogs (we didn't know it was him at the time), set little fires and pooped and peed in the closet. We thought that was our pets. He stole a knife and held it to my three year olds throat. He left a little Mark. She was too scared to say he did it when asked. She said the cat had scratched her. That cat disappeared by the way. We now know he killed pur two dogs and my daughter saw him trying to strangle a neighbor's cat. Nobody saw him kill our cat, but we know he did it. That cat was just gone one day.

I'd never in retrospect put any younger kids around a Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) kid. When we adopted the boy, we were not told and he was good at hiding his hideous behavior from all adults. He even fooled all of his psychiatrists who all said he was normal.

Only marry him if you never leave him in a room alone with niece and nephew and don't even consider having a baby. Way too dangerous.

After us he went to residential treatment where he got 24/7 treatment, but he still tried to sexually abuse others who were there.nThen he was discharged at 18. Scary.

Beware. No man is worth that risk, no matter how great the man is. The kid will be a threat to other kids until he finally ends up in a residential treatment center. And he will.
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Well-Known Member
After my experience...and all we wanted to do was love a child who would have trouble getting a home due to age and other factors...i am never quiet about this. These children are only safe for strong adults, not afraid to use door alarms and to lock their bedroom doors at night, and in homers with no younger children or any animals.

Another friend of mine had an eight year old foster child who burned her house down on purpose. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). While the fire fighters were there he acted like it was no big deal and said he was hungry and wanted to go to McDonald's. Her husband and kids had to hold her back from hurting him. The kid left and the family.lived in a motel for two months while the house was rebuilt.

I met up with his social worker when he was sixteen. She and I could not directly use names but she managed to convey to me that the boy has not improved and is still puzzled about why everyone was upset when he set the house on fire. "They got a brand new house out of it. Didn't they?" Never expresses remorse about anything. Is in residential treatment. Lots of therapy but no change.

Do run. It is too big a risk if you want a baby and pets. Hugs to you. So sorry.
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Thank you, Susie for your response. I really do appreciate it. I know you're not saying any of this to be mean, and truthfully, you're not saying anything I haven't said to myself a thousand times already. I think that's partly why I posted here. I want to go into this with my eyes completely wide open and armed with as much knowledge as possible beforehand. And you're right, decisions made now are easier (not easy, yes, but easier) than later.

I did do some research today and last night and found at least one Reactive Attachment Disorder (Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)) therapist in our city. I've contacted her office, so hoping to hear back from her to see if she's accepting new patients. We shall see.

I truly do thank you for your post. I have so much to consider and pray about and think about....
Everything Susie said above is true. It will not get better quickly if ever. Any psychiatrist worth their degrees will tell you this. Attachments must be formed early on, or the chances of them ever forming are pretty slim. This disorder is not like many others that can be helped with therapy. We had to disrupt a foster placement before adopting because of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). It was just too much, and the hope was very little. We couldn't even find a therapist willing to work with the kiddo... his issues were long term and severe. I realize you are in a different place, but it will be a long long hard road if you chose to travel. I hope you have lots of outside supports in place, and people you can talk to that understand.
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