Educating the world about Reactive Attachment Disorder through experience, hope, humor and love.
(Warning: nothing here should be taken as medical advice)

Friday, July 29, 2011

It's never too late for empathy

Since my RAD has only a mild form, we thankfully don’t have to deal with a lot of what the parents of severe RADs do. We don’t have the violence (although the fascination is there), we don’t have the eating of strange things, and we don’t seem to have to deal with the overly sexualized relationships with strangers. In severe cases even, there can be a complete lack of conscience. These kids don’t care who they hurt and why should they? Nobody cared about them when they were little so that whole “caring about others” part of the brain never developed. I feel blessed that my RAD isn’t that badly affected. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t display those traits from time to time. When she breaks something valuable for example. Most non-RADs would feel bad about something like that (especially when it’s an accident!) and, hopefully, apologize. As a teen you know when you’ve hurt somebody and it doesn’t make you feel good (usually). However, when RADs are in that position, they don’t seem to care that they hurt somebody else, only how it affects them. They are of the mindset “Why should THEY be hurt/upset? *I* am the one that’s getting yelled at”. They can seem, at times, to be emotionally blind to others.

This is partially because during the first year of a childs life, a substantial number of synaptic connections develop between the brain hemispheres. A healthy functioning brain relies on these connections to be solid. Sadly, children who were abused or neglected during that first year have poorly integrated cerebral hemispheres. This poor integration of hemispheres and subsequent underdevelopment of the orbitofrontal cortex (which is responsible for integrating emotional responses generated in the limbic system) is the basis for such symptoms as difficulties with emotional regulation, lack of cause-effect thinking, inability to accurately recognize emotions in others, inability to articulate the one’s own emotions, an incoherent sense of self and autobiographical history, and a lack of conscience.


There is hope though. Research has shown that empathy CAN be developed at a later age. But it takes time. And effort. And a lot of love. And more effort. I hear RAD parents talk all the time about how drained they are just from trying to hold things together from day to day (and I can relate!). But they know the alternative can be far worse. Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Edgar Allen Poe, Jeffery Dahmer, and Ted Bundy all had documented attachment issues that were left untreated (or untreated for too long). But don’t give up hope. You don’t HAVE to be raising the next mass murderer – in fact if you’re reading this and you have a RADish at home, chances are you’re already making a huge positive impact on that child. How do we know these children can be turned around? One particularly famous person had attachment disorder and went on to become one of the greatest humanitarians of all time. Her name?

Helen Keller.


  1. There was a time they were concerned that my oldest, Gavin, had RAD. (I simply ♥love♥ the term RADish BTW!) And in all my research, I never read about Helen Keller, which makes perfect sense (that she had it not that I failed to find it - lol).

    I haven't checked out the rest of your blog yet - but I will - but I had to stop by after your hilarious coffee comment. rotflmao :-)

    Thanks for stopping by! I'm off to read some more. :-)

  2. Love this post -- the number of times I have said "Well Helen Keller was RAD too! and she still managed to put her mark on the world for good"

  3. I didn't realize Helen Keller was RAD until I was reading some of Nancy Thomas' stuff. Of course once I started thinking about it, how could she NOT have been? I now try to remind myself of that whenever things look tough...

  4. Hey! Just wanted to say how much I'm noticing the similarities between RAD and my son's issues. He doesn't have RAD because if I read correctly, there has to be some pretty early trauma, but a lot of what you're describing definitely describes my son's behaviors/thinking.