My dogs are pretty cute (to me anyway). They are also pretty smart, but they have animal brains and, although trainable, they seem to lack solid cause and effect thinking. They can learn to sit, come when called, and even dance, but they can’t quite figure out that if they corner the cat it WILL claw them. So they do it over and over and over.
RADs are the same way. They have a severely diminished ability for cause and effect thinking. Which makes sense if you think about it – if a baby cries and gets fed one time, then ignored the next time, then yelled at yet another time, it never knows what to expect. Since the brain learns via repetition, the brain never grasps the concept of cause (I cry) and effect (I get fed).
This is one reason why typical parenting methods such as charts and rewards don’t work (no matter how many times people say it will). The brains of traumatized children tend to run on a heightened state of arousal and stress, which inhibits their use of the cortex by funneling that energy to the lower, more primitive, parts of the brain. Their brain state makes them unable to consider the potential consequences of their actions. For these children, immediate reward is the most reinforcing – delayed gratification is almost impossible. Without input from the internal regulating capabilities of the cortex, the brainstem acts reflexively, impulsively and sometimes aggressively to any perceived threat.
It is precisely this reason that it does absolutely no good to use the “normal” methods. When a RAD is dysregulated, they aren’t in their “right mind”. They aren’t able to reason, they aren’t able to think logically, they aren’t able to do much of anything except slip into survival mode. In his book The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, Dr Perry states “fear, quite literally, makes us dumber”, and if you think about it that makes total sense. Even the smartest person isn't concerned with how s/he is going to make money when faced with a life or death situation.
So if you have a RAD in your house, or if you are caring for a RAD, don’t bother trying to reason with, or discipline, or hope to make any difference in future behavior when the child is dysregulated. You have to get them regulated first, before anything you say will sink in. This is the premise behind Heather Forbes’ Beyond Consequences method, which seems to be one of the preferred methods among parents of RADs. If you are a caretaker of a RAD – no matter how infrequently – you owe it to him/her (and yourself if you want to keep your sanity around a bit longer!) to at least give it a read.