Thursday, July 30, 2015

Aspergers Syndrome and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) : Let's Talk

by John and Diane
UPDATE July 2015
Hi Friends,  Please read the update following this blog post from 2013. 

Lately I have been hearing from a lot of parents of children with Aspergers syndrome and hearing that the behaviors are often compared with that of RAD kids.  Before I get into this discussion, let’s clarify our terms.
Aspergers Syndrome, (in brief,) according to WebMD is defined as: a type of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). PDDs are a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, most notably the ability to socialize with others, to communicate, and to use imagination.
Although Aspergers syndrome is similar in some ways to autism -- another, more severe type of PDD -- there are some important differences. Children with Aspergers syndrome typically function better than do those with autism. In addition, children with Aspergers syndrome generally have normal intelligence and near-normal language development, although they may develop problems communicating, as they get older.
RAD is Reactive Attachment Disorder, defined, again, by WebMD as:  a condition found in children who have received grossly negligent care and do not form a healthy emotional attachment with their primary caregivers -- usually their mothers -- before age 5.Common Symptoms of Inhibited RAD Include:
·       Detached, Unresponsive or resistant to comforting, Excessively inhibited (holding back emotions), Withdrawn or a mixture of approach and avoidance. 
Common Symptoms With Disinhibited RAD Include: Indiscriminate sociability and Inappropriately familiar or selective in the choice of attachment figures
Well, I have been listening to people with Aspergers children and they have a lot of the same problems as RAD kids and act the same in many ways:
1.   If they don’t get there way they may get angry with you
2. They may get physical with you or others in the house
3. Threaten to hurt themselves or others
4.  Verbally abusive: call names and say they hate you and everyone else
4. Try to use their problems to get their way.
5. Blame you when they are mad, destructive or injure themselves during tantrums
Well, this should sound familiar to all of us who are working with kids with trust problems and ADHD etc.
But there is a difference with Aspergers children.  They may act this way, but they are focused on a long-term plan. They don’t need to control their surroundings completely, they just want to control it enough to get what they need to finish what they have started.
From what I am learning about Aspergers kids, they are very intelligent and can be almost obsessive when it comes to learning things that gain their interest. However, they don’t focus on a broad range of topics, such as “normal” students must, and so they can’t always function in a normal educational system.
This is also how they learn behaviors and how to function in their families.  If you have allowed them to “win” arguments and to get their way by having tantrums or by behaving badly, the parent has taught them that behaving badly works to get them what they want.  Once they learn that, they will stick to that method and it will be very difficult to break them of that behavior.
RAD kids, however, will be more flexible in their approach. If a behavior is accepted at one time, and become unacceptable later, they are more able to change the behavior once told of the new rules. They are basically very adept at change, while children with Aspergers seem to find something that works and sticks with it, even if it doesn’t work anymore. Do you all find that that is true in your cases?
 It is harder for them to unlearn something they have learned early on, so even if it seems so hard to teach them that you are the one in control and “yes is yes” and “no is no,” it would be a lot harder for you when they are teens.  Instill good habits and be stern with bad behaviors early with Aspergers kids it seems is the lesson here.
 Now I know I did not talk a lot about the RAD child here, but I have in so many of my blog posts, and we know their behaviors pretty well. 
I will say this though: I find that the kids I work with (RAD) want to control me and they only want to get what they can get for the day. They don’t think about tomorrow. They live for the day.   That is the other thing I find different about the two kids. RAD kids live for short-term things, and the Aspergers kids think long term.
 Now I don’t have a lot of time working with Aspergers kids so I would love to hear from you and share where you differ with me.  I sure don’t mind being wrong and if I can learn from my mistakes, it’s a good day.
 Thank you and God bless you all.
(Note: we use the terms “Aspergers and RAD kids” not as a disrespectful label to the children, just as a more conversational term to use here amongst us parents.)


We recently were so glad to receive an email from one of our readers here who shared with us this rare perspective on this topic.   Please read her story and learn more about the differences between RAD and Autism from her own unique perspective. We thank her again for sharing her story.

I will start out with I am not a foster parent and have no children, but I did read your article pertaining to the confusion sometimes between RAD and autistic spectrum disorder in children. 

I am by no means an expert, but I was diagnosed with Aspergers in 2007 (I am 58 years old) and I have had several years of therapy, starting in my 40s for PTSD, etc. I was told by more than one therapist that they suspected my Mother had RAD (I am now estranged). 

Her real mother died shortly after her birth, her father was overwhelmed, passed her around to a couple different women to nurse, when she needed to be in an incubator due to a juvenile kidney, he stated he could not afford it, and then agreed to let her aunt and Uncle adopt her. Needless to say, my mother did not bond. I can feel genuine empathy for her, but the cruelty and abuse I suffered at her hands is another story.

Without getting into details, I’d like to offer some insight into what I feel the difference may be.

a. My mother was known to throw cats up on a roof and let them fall off... she claimed she heard they had nine lives! In contrast I always loved animals. I was given a puppy when I was young and one day when I came home from school, the puppy was gone. My mom claimed he burned himself on the hot water tank and she gave him back. I really think that was probably a lie. Aspies tend to love animals, almost using them as a replacement for people, whereas RAD children tend to be cruel to animals.

b. My mother was a pathological liar. I’m sure this probably started as a child. If you caught her in a lie, it was deny, deny. On the other hand, as an Aspie child (and adult) I am very honest, sometimes to a fault. I would always tell my parents the truth, even if I would have liked to get away with something.
c. I have lots of Integrity. My mother does not. She will say and do anything to get her way. I tend to always keep my word, even if it’s difficult for me.

d. I am not manipulative, whereas RAD children tend to manipulate the adults in their life.

e) My mother often told me her Mom (aunt) did not like her sitting near her father (Uncle) in the car. Her Mom seemed jealous of her father paying her attention. With what I know now of RAD, RAD children can act like adults sexually and flirt with the parent. I still have trouble flirting as an adult, let alone as a child with a parent. My mother seemed to be crazy about her Dad (he died when she was 10) and hated her Mom. (another characteristic of RAD... hatred for the mother). I, on the other hand, loved my Mom dearly as a child (Of course I had no idea I had bonded with a crazy person)

f) Aspies are very intelligent and good in school overall.... little professors. My mother was not a poor student, but seemed to have some learning difficulties. I think RAD children have more problems learning in school.

g) My mother took delight in other’s suffering... especially mine. She would deliberately say something if she knew it bothered you. I, on the other hand, and even as a child, was sympathetic if I understood someone’s problem. Even to the point of internalizing their suffering. I once wouldn’t eat my dinner because the nun had told us about starving children in Africa.

I think there are many difference... the biggest being, we do not lie, manipulate, deal in hidden agendas and take delight in getting our way or causing pain.
Something to think about. If you do know of any resources about having a parent with RAD, please let me know. I can only find information on parents raising children with RAD.
Thank you,

We thought our Friend gave us a very clear definition there, and felt it worth sharing.  If anyone is aware of a support group for Children of Parents with RAD, please post it in the comments section here.

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edited by Diane 


  1. Thanks for informative writing. I will be back again.

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  2. I think you are right, but my son has attachment disorder and I think he has mild aspergers as well. He is behind at school and gets very angry as he isn't as good as his peers. He's in therapy and we are awiting a Tamhs appointment, as school feel that he has aspergic tendencies too. I have worked in the childcare sector for the last 12 years and have had lots of SEN training, so I understand impairments, disabilities and SEN. I hate labelling children but at the moment my son needs statementing and a diagnosis of aspergers with attachment disorder will hopefully get him the help he needs and maybe even some financial help for us as a family too, which would help with his therapy costs.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Sounds like you have your hands full, but that you, with your experience, are ready to tackle it. I pray that you find some solutions and that progress is made for you. Please check out the latest blog post on Advocating for Your Kids: Legal Resources, as there may be some infor. there that can maybe lead you in a direction that could help you with your therapy costs once you get some diagnosis (under the special ed. advocating services). Good luck to you my friend.

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  4. I have a cousin who gets bored very easily with any task that he does. He has the same symptoms as for a child with RAD. after carefully observing his reaction to certain situations where he would go completely angry when people don't listen to him or things don't go his way. At Cluas aspergers syndrome treatment we found that he had an attention disorder ADD/ADHD.

  5. Very true re Asperger kids. They generally are trying to get what they want to finish a "project" that drives them. Usually related to what the current "special interest" happens to be. Also true that they have problems communicating throughout and although they have seemingly normal verbal ability, they can talk your ear off about what their interest is, but when it comes to emotional intelligence they are unable to connect. It is more like learning a math problem when it comes to learning how to read people and relate. It is not natural and has to be taught over many many relational experiences. Last comment...yes if you let a bad behavior start it is VERY difficult to break it. That is why an early diagnosis is crucial. I didn't know my son had it until he was 11, Needless to say some bad habits had already started. Good news though after years and years of social coaching I get comments regarding my son and how well he does socially. He has also learned that his poor behavior wasnt going to pay off. Prayer works and God is merciful... find someone to share your frustrations with and dont give up.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment and share your experiences. We appreciate every story and indeed, it's so important not to feel like you are in it alone....