Disclaimer: This is certainly not a new topic. I don’t want to pretend that this post represents any kind of brainstorm on my part– this topic has been bandied about for a long time in adoptee circles, and has a deep, thought-provoking expression here at Transracial Eyes. Rather than just reblogging adoptee posts or linking, I did think there was value in expressing my thoughts about this topic, and addressing it to adoptive parents. So here we go.
Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, is a huge topic in adoption circles, especially among wary prospective and actual adoptive parents. When reading Yahoo! groups and web fora, it would seem that prospective adoptive parents fear RAD more than a diagnosis of fatal cancer. Yet with all that discussion, there’s little understanding of, and empathy for, the children who have this diagnosis. Parents act as if the children are wild animals to feared, to be broken and tamed. Some even talk about how “the devil” has their child. They compare their kids with the “good” adoptees, the ones who immediately attached to their adoptive parents. Who were eager to please. Who strove to fit in. The ones with RAD are messed up, are broken, are wrong. The good adoptees are the model.
Let’s think about that. What if instead of an adoptee we think about a child who has been kidnapped. We’d expect a kidnapped child to resist, to fight. If the child didn’t actively fight and resist, if the child were to begin to identify with the kidnappers, we’d say the child had developed Stockholm Syndrome. We’d treat the child who complied as mentally ill and dysfunctional.
I know what you are thinking. It’s not fair to compare adoption and kidnapping. Are you so sure? Think of it from the child’s perspective. At least in our case, our unsuspecting child was ripped unceremoniously from her loving long-term caregivers, people she recognized as family, thrown on a train for five hours, then dropped in the laps of strangers who didn’t look, act or smell anything like what she’s used to. From her perspective, how is that functionally any different from a kidnapping? It’s not.
So, using that analogy, and understanding the trauma that adoption inflicts on the adoptee, why is RAD seen as such an abnormal reaction? Why do we stigmatize children with RAD, say that they are possessed by Satan, inflict abusive therapies on them? Why do we lionize the “good” adoptees, the ones who submit?
Here’s the important message: I’m not trying to argue that our kids with RAD d/xs don’t need attention from mental health professionals. Of course they do– they’ve suffered huge trauma, and they need help resolving that trauma. What I am telling adoptive parents, especially ones parenting children with so-called attachment issues, is we have to shift the focus. We have to stop treating the RAD reaction as wrong, dysfunctional, and as something inherently broken in the child. We have to stop trying to dominate and control our children. We have to stop trying to resolve trauma by inflicting more abuse. Daniel Ibn Zayd at Transracial Eyes hits the nail on the head:
“Much of the RAD diagnosis is focused not on the adoption itself, but instead on the child as manifesting an “illness” that needs to be corrected via a variety of therapies physical and psychological that I believe would constitute torture if performed on prisoners of war, as defined by the Geneva Convention.”
Put another way: Our kids have suffered trauma simply by virtue of being adopted. Their reaction to the trauma is normal, but they need help learning to process and cope with the trauma. The parental element of that process is unconditional and patient love. Unfortunately, many “attachment professionals” treat our children as abnormal and as little better than animals.
For example, if a child’s trauma manifests as anxiety surrounding food (i.e. food hoarding), we are told to lock up food, put alarms on our child’s bedroom doors, and deprive them of food on demand. In other words, inflict more trauma surrounding food. Prisoners are entitled to food under the Geneva Convention, yet alleged mental health professionals advocate depriving our traumatized children of food in the guise of therapy.
Think about that. How does depriving a child of food, putting it under lock and key, do anything to resolve a child’s trauma? All you are doing is inflicting more trauma. That’s asinine, yet adoptive parents do this — and worse — every single day across the nation, all in the name of “fixing” their child.
Adoption creates trauma. That is fact. When you remove a child from his or her biological parent, whether at birth or later, the child suffers. RAD seems to me to be a totally normal response to that trauma. Instead of viewing your child as broken and in need of fixing, first empathize with that trauma, then look to help your child cope. And I do mean cope– you can’t take the trauma away. It is there, and won’t go away. Love and empathy are the answer, NOT additional trauma. Reject dominance and trauma-inflicting therapies. It’s not easy. I won’t pretend it is. When your child is raging, patience and empathy can be hard. But it’s what’s right. Choose love and empathy.