This week's People magazine features a story about a family's struggle with RAD in their son adopted from Russia. I had already read the story when a friend mentioned it to me, asking if I had seen it. This family had to place their young son in a therapeutic home at a ranch due to his extreme behaviors and their inability to control him. As I read the article, I found myself identifying strongly with the adoptive parents, knowing that others who might read their story might judge them harshly. Having been in their shoes to some degree...and quite honestly having looked at web sites for such facilities for future reference should we find ourselves in need of respite care...I can easily understand their decision to place their child in residential care.
There are so many reasons why a family might come to the conclusion that they can no longer continue to parent a child without outside intervention or going to the extreme of placing their child outside the home. Fear of the violent actions of their child...even the youngest RAD kids can be scary with their threats and lack of emotional connection. Fear of your own inability to control your anger and frustration that comes bursting out in flashes of irrational behavior. Fear that you would lose control and one day harm your child yourself. Fear that you are raising the next serial murderer. Fear that you have ruined your life forever. Fear that your child will never be normal.
And yet, to the outsider with no understanding of RAD and its effects on everyone it touches, it can appear heartless for an adoptive parent to "abandon" their child. It is easy to sit on the outside looking in and judge. What is not easy is to go to bed each night with a lump in your throat, wishing you could receive a good night kiss just once from your child that felt natural instead of forced. Or to have nightmares of what your child might be like as a teenager, that they will turn into someone you are petrified of and yet are still responsible for.
What must this family have gone through before coming to the decision to place their son outside their home? The article explained it briefly, but having our own experience with Josh allowed me to read between the lines a bit more and fill in the blanks that the article barely touched on in terms of his behavior.
And as I closed the cover on the magazine, the single thought that repeated over and over in my mind was gratitude that we weren't the featured story that week, that Josh had indeed largely healed from RAD. I will admit that for many months the future looked bleak, and I fully expected to read about my son one day in the Police Blotter of the local paper for gradually escalating violent acts. For a long time, that sort of thing was never far from my mind.
And there, but for the Grace of God, go I.
For families and children struggling with RAD, today can be frustrating but it is the tomorrows that scare you to death. The blank looks, the lashing out, the deadened souls, all increase in intensity until one day you either get help, or you hurt your child...or you walk away. Those on the outside do not see most of the behavior and don't believe it when described. Their sympathy for the orphaned child causes them to suspend belief in the parent, and instead leads to "mommy blame", as if it is her fault that her child came to her damaged by others and she is in the unenviable position of having to repair what others have wrought. Sometimes, luckily not often, it is too late regardless of how young a child is. Sometimes the soul has been damaged beyond repair.
Although Josh is "normal" now, there are still subtle reminders of his battle with Reactive Attachment Disorder. It pops up at unexpected moments and it catches me off guard. There are times still when we will be in the house alone and it is quiet, and I will be out of eye sight and he wanders through the house with a steadily rising panic obvious in his voice as he fears I have left him. At 5 years old we go through phases where eye contact with him is obviously still uncomfortable and I remind him to "look in mommy's eyes" when we are talking. Recently as I hold him he has begun to pull away, trying to have less physical contact, not leaning in to my body and molding to me, and once I "call him" on it he will do it but it is as if he subconsciously returns once in awhile to that place where all physical signs of affection are uncomfortable, and he can't explain why. And of course, as with all RAD kids, he isn't that way with anyone else, only mom.
That is what makes RAD hard, as these children can easily show affection to others, but can't risk it with mom...and it is usually in the privacy of your own home that the extremes begin to show up. No one believes you, they say "Are you kidding me? He is such a loving child!" and they look at you like you are nuts. In Josh's case, he genuinely IS a loving little guy now, even if at moments we revert back to those early behaviors. With him, it is more insecurity now than full blown RAD, but when those insecurities arise he steps back to the old comforting, self-preservation. He withdraws in subtle ways. We talk about it, I work on it consistently, and then it will disappear for awhile. One day I hope it never returns.
I have often wondered what I would have done had Josh been older, had his behaviors been more dangerous. Would I have resorted to placing him out of our home? I don't know, having not walked in those shoes I can not say...but I'll admit that if I didn't it surely would have crossed my mind.
But we were one of the lucky ones, we made it. Josh now feels compassion, empathy, connection...all things that true RAD kids are unable to feel. He also is delightful and filled with joy, able to relax and walk through life relatively confident. Sadly, that is most often not the case, and we beat the odds.
And yet again, there but for the Grace of God Go I.