Saturday, December 21, 2013

Reactive Attachment Disorder

This is the last post in the series, "When Love Is NOT Enough". This has not been a fun series for me. I think though that it is vital to understand how children can turn out to be so destructive. So first lets go back to the first day of birth.

Babies have three needs at birth, oxygen to breath, food for nutrition and physical touch with someone. A baby recognizes the Mama's voice from the second he comes earth side. Countless studies have been done over the years to verify what I am saying. These three things are critical to the well being of a baby human. As the hours turn to days, days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months a baby needs all three to not only survive but thrive.

Picture a circle around the baby. As the baby cries for food the need is met for nutrition. As the baby cries to be held and the baby is held that need for touch is met. As long as they receive oxygen and the other things all the needs are met. When this cycle continues day after day, week after week the baby learns to trust that his needs will be met. Food and touch are just as important as the oxygen.

Now what happens when the circle is broken and the baby cries and cries and his needs for touch and nutrition are not met? A brick is figuratively placed in a circle around the baby. Each time the babies needs are not met another brick is laid around the circumference of the baby. Eventually there is a wall around the baby. The baby is slowly learning that there is no one in his life who is trust worthy. Remember, the need for physical food and touch is just as important as oxygen.

The baby starts arching their backs and looking away when there is no one to connect with. They no longer want to be held. They would rather have a bottle propped up on a pillow than be held by their caregiver. They decide in their brains that no one is looking at for them so they are on their own. I know this might sound crazy to some of you and you dismiss out of turn but I have seen this over and over again.

Medically fragile babies who spend weeks and sometimes months in the hospital are at risk for being unattached. I was asked to be speak to a room full of pediatric doctors at St. Louis Children's Hospital to give them training on what to look for, this is real. Now throw in drugs, alcohol and abuse and you have a recipe for disaster.

The baby comes to realize that his world is not a safe place where his needs are met so he turns inward. If food and touch is just as important as oxygen and the first two are not met than oxygen is all he has left.  Since no one provides the essentials the wall becomes higher than he is. He is closed in so to speak. Closed to love, closed to nurturing and closed to learning.  This little guy has decided no one but himself is in charge of him so he takes his own destiny into his hands. Sounds bleak, doesn't it.

The good news is  you can tear down the walls that are building up if you catch it in time. They don't have to lead a life of destruction if you know what is going on and reverse it. I babysat for a young couple who were both in the military years ago. The mother was wracked with guilt that she was in the military. She was a brand new mom who didn't know the importance of touch. Soon after birth she went right back to work. Daycare was hard to find on an Airman's salary so this little guy went to several different caregivers before I got him. Mom was certain her month old baby didn't like her. He cried, he squirmed in her arms so she figured he didn't want her. The rejection and the guilt overwhelmed her. It became a vicious cycle. She quickly decided to just prop him up with a bottle. As you can well imagine this was a disaster just waiting to happen.

I hadn't been watching him for long when all this came out. I shared with her my understanding of bonding. She poured out her feelings of inadequacy and guilt. I assured her that her baby just needed lots of loving touch, eye to eye contact while feeding him his bottle etc. It took about a month before things turned around about around they did. Mama and baby finally bonded.

Children who have been in orphanages overseas are at high risk of being unattached. The older they get the harder it is to break down the wall if you don't recognize the symptoms and know how to fix it. As the baby turns into a toddler and that toddler turns into a preschooler it get harder and harder to break down the wall.

When you have a 5 year old who is unattached you have a terror on your hands. The wall is so high that training them to know right from wrong gets bounced off their brick wall. They end up being their own moral compass. In other words, they have to be in charge at all cost. Being in charge is the oxygen for them. If the child is not in charge, to them it is like strangling them to death. Without oxygen no one lives, without control they will fight to the death, sometimes literally.

That is how a mass murderer like Ted Bundy is made. He had no conscience. He could kill without emotion because life outside of himself held no value to him. For our sons who we tried to bring in at an older age and bond with you can see how tough it would be. They were unwilling to crush the brick wall that had been built so high and so wide that nothing would convince them to break it down. Oh, there were little breaches in the wall now and then but for the most part that wall stood.

Is it hopeless then? Absolutely not. Nothing is wasted when you pour love and care into a person no matter how old. Did we make a difference in the two lives of our sons? On good days I am positive that someday they will get it. On the bad days I am not hopeful. Does that change what we did? No, our love is not dependent on the outcome. Being obedient to the call of God does NOT depend on the outcome at all. Those things are not in our power. We are just asked to obey and the rest is out of our hands.

I am thankful for my two wayward sons. Although, the path of destruction they left is long and wide. Financially they will impact us the rest of our lives. The emotional scars for the rest of the family will probably never heal. In order to try and help two we alienated several of our other children for a while. I am so thankful for the grace and mercy shown to us by our other children after it was all over. For that reason though I would not encourage others to take older children. Michael Orr from Blind Side is a rare young man indeed. For every Michael Orr I can show you 100 other boys and some girls who chose to never break down that wall.

If you have gotten this far I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sticking with me. My prayer is that if series helps just one family then it is worth it. If you have any questions for me about RAD  you can privately email me at

In Christ ALONE

Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the ground each morning Satan says, "Oh crud, she's up".

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this series, Jill! Every time I read more from you, or talk more with you, I just love you more! Love is powerful, and with God all things are possible. And... we all have the right to our own choices. No matter what hand we are dealt, we are responsible to deal with it. It is right, and a good thing, for us to do what we can to help the hurting, especially children. And then, they make their choices. But God keeps the door open. As long as there is life, there is hope. Bless you, my friend!