What is RAD & How Does it Affect Fostering Children with Abilities

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) affects many children in the foster care system or who were adopted as older children. RAD is usually found in children who were severely neglected, preventing them from forming healthy, loving bonds with a caregiver before age five. Since their emotional needs are not being met, they do not understand how to appropriately respond to a variety of social interactions or situations — including the love and affection of their new caregivers or other trusted adults.

Bringing home foster children often means being prepared to do more than just provide a household where they can be safe and cared for. In fact, a study of 1,600 children published by Scientific World Journal found 22 children exhibiting symptoms of RAD. Although that is only 1.3%, over half of those 22 were in the foster care system or kinship care (living with a non-birth-parent relative). 

Another study by Europe PMC found 38-40% of toddlers in foster care who were maltreated met the diagnostic criteria for RAD. This suggests RAD is relatively rare in the general populous but pretty common for children who have had to enter the foster care system because of neglect or abuse. 

If you are interested in foster care for children with disabilities in Little Rock, you should understand and be able to identify the signs and symptoms of RAD.

What Are the Symptoms of RAD?

Reactive attachment disorder can start during a child’s infancy. There’s little research available on the symptoms of RAD beyond early childhood, and many professionals remain uncertain about whether it exists in children over five years old. 

Regardless, the signs and symptoms of RAD may include:

  • Failure to smile;
  • A sad and listless appearance;
  • Failure to reach out when picked up;
  • Failure to ask for help or assistance;
  • Unexplained withdrawal, irritability, sadness, or fear;
  • Not seeking comfort;
  • Showing no response when comfort is offered;
  • Watching others closely without engaging in social interaction directly; and
  • Lack of interest in playing peekaboo or other interactive games.

Children with RAD may also exhibit symptoms like anger, violent outbursts, subversive responses to commands and directions, or forming inappropriate relationships with others. 

If you notice these signs in your foster child, you should consider having an evaluation performed. These symptoms can occur in children who do not have reactive attachment disorder as well as in children with different disorders like autism spectrum disorder. A professional will be able to help you properly diagnose your foster child. 

If you are considering fostering a child with RAD or foster care for children with disabilities in Little Rock, make sure you have all the information and support you can get from care providers, medical professionals, and other foster families. Knowledge can help you understand and provide better, more compassionate care when you bring home a foster child. 

RAD in Older Children

In older children, RAD can often manifest differently than in infants, toddlers, and younger children. They can exhibit excessively inhibited behavior, hypervigilance, or highly contradictory responses. 

For instance, many foster parents who have children with RAD report that rather than outright combativeness, their children find ways to “work the system.” They “mishear” directions, do things in a strange order, or complete assigned tasks in completely unexpected (and sometimes more time-consuming or counterproductive) ways. 

This likely stems from a need for control. When a child is neglected and left to fend for themselves, they learn to survive by any means necessary. When you take control away from them, they fear losing everything should you leave them or neglect them as they have previously experienced. 

Children with Disabilities and RAD

RAD has many symptoms similar to other disorders — particularly to autism spectrum disorder— including outbursts of frustration, lack of interest in social interaction, failure to smile, and preferring to be alone. 

If you suspect a child is struggling with RAD, have a professional evaluation done to make sure you are treating the correct diagnoses. Treatments for RAD will not fully help a child with autism and vice versa. 

Sometimes the same neglect and abuse that cause reactive attachment disorder can cause other physical or intellectual disabilities. Neglect may even stem from a parent’s inability or disinterest in catering to the disability. If this is the case, you should make sure you have a proper diagnosis for all of the child’s special needs so you can create a plan of action with their care providers. 

RAD that manifests through anger and disobedience can be particularly harmful when the child also has other disabilities. If a child refuses to complete their occupational or other therapy exercises in a fit of rage, it can pose a larger detriment to their physical and mental health. The good news is many occupational, physical, speech, and cognitive therapies have interlaced inherent lessons and activities to help the symptoms of RAD. 

Bringing Home Foster Children With RAD

When you foster a child, you are creating a safe space for them to grow, thrive, and learn. Working with a child who has RAD, or any other developmental or intellectual disability, requires patience, compassion, and consistency. There are several things you can do to make life easier for your foster child and your family when managing attachment issues. 

Have Realistic Expectations

Helping your foster child will be a long road; change will not happen all at once. Celebrate every step in the right direction, and praise every small success.

Be Patient

Progress never happens as quickly as we want, and you should prepare yourself for bumps in the road. Staying patient and focusing on right now can help you create a safe environment for your foster child. If you are on the verge of losing your temper, try to breathe deeply, count to ten, and remember what this child has been through. 

Keep Your Sense of Humor

A smile and a laugh can go a long way toward relieving tension. If you cannot find the humor in the situation you face, at least make sure you have some light escapes — people who support you and activities that make you feel positive.


There is so much truth in the saying “you cannot help others if you do not help yourself.” If you run yourself ragged, you have very little to offer your new foster child or any other members of your family. Try to get enough sleep, stay healthy, keep your exercise routine, and take time for yourself when possible. Sometimes making time for yourself is absolutely necessary. This creates healthy boundaries and sets a good example for the child. 

Accept Support

A good support system is essential to providing foster care for children with disabilities in Little Rock and anywhere else. Rely on family, friends, community resources, and respite care if it is available to you. Before you stress yourself to the breaking point, ask for help. 

Join a support group for Little Rock foster parents or parents of children with the same disabilities as your child.  Knowing you are not alone can take much of the pressure and guilt off your shoulders. 

Try to Stay Positive and Hopeful

Children are sensitive to our emotions and can pick up on feelings. Children from abusive situations are even more aware. Developing those abilities was a means of survival. If they can sense you are discouraged, angry, or irritated, they will respond in kind. When you feel down, turn to other adults for comfort and reassurance.

More Information About Foster Parent Little Rock

If you are interested in foster care for children with disabilities in Little Rock, contact Integrity Inc. at (501)406-0442. We can help you find  resources for foster parents in the Little Rock area who foster disabled or differently abled children. We offer support services for placement, training, and long-term assistance. Schedule an appointment with us today!

Tags: foster care

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