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I am the mother of a RADish.

A RADish is a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). RAD is an attachment disorder that results from a traumatic event in a child’s early life. Elle was adopted from Russia and spent the first nine months of her life in an orphanage. Her birth mother delivered her, terminated her parental rights, and left Elle at the hospital. A month later, she made her way into the Baby House in Kursk, Russia.

The orphanage was nice, as orphanages go. It was clean, old and colorful in a Russian kind of way with fairy-tale murals painted on the walls. But an orphanage is an orphanage, with too many children and not enough warm, loving arms to go around. When I first saw Elle, she was expressionless. The eyes that looked back at me had no emotion, just a blank face. The only time I ever saw her laugh or smile was when she was walking. She didn’t particularly like to be held or rocked. She was independent at an early age.

I thought all of this was normal for a child, and for Elle. What did I have to compare her to? We started having problems with her when she was 5, the summer before she started Kindergarten. She would become sullen and withdrawn if things didn’t go her way. She started taking things…from stores, my room, etc. She would argue until the cows came home and dinner was a nightmare. When she was really angry she would mark on the walls with chapstick and rub Vaseline all over her bathroom.

When we adopted Bunny, she took Bunny’s things and hid them. All the while denying that she had done anything wrong. Then she started taking food. She would get up in the middle of the night and raid food out of the pantry. Not just chips and cookies, but powdered jell-o, baking chocolate, and sugar. We found leftover chicken and frozen salmon stashed away in her closet, along with things she had stolen out of my bedroom and office.

It came to a head when we decided to move a year ago. I received a call from the school’s safety officer. Elle had admitted to stealing two cell phones and an iPod. The iPod was hidden in her closet and I could bring it back to school. As you can imagine our horror, we could see a life of police stations, courts and jail in her future. We couldn’t understand it. She is incredibly intelligent and charming. What is wrong with our child?

She had been in therapy for a few years, but we weren’t making any progress. It was finally suggested that Elle’s issues were beyond our therapist’s experience and we needed to look for a different one. Life was unimaginable in our house, Elle was out of control and I wasn’t seeing much joy or hope. We took her to another therapist who diagnosed her with bipolar disorder…based on a 50-minute discussion with us.

No, something wasn’t right with this. Consequently, we never went back and kept looking for an answer.

I finally stumbled across it while searching the internet. Reactive Attachment Disorder. It gave a list of behaviors and almost every one fit Elle to a tee. We read, and read, and then read some more. Could this be it? Fortunately, there were a couple of therapists in town who specialized in RAD. A couple of phone calls later and we had a new therapist.

The therapist began working with Colby and I. The first behavior to change had to be ours. We needed to learn to parent differently and be a rock-solid unit before we could even tackle Elle’s issues. Then we started to work on Elle. We learned about the Circle of Trust and how with Elle, her circle had been broken.

When “normal” babies cry, their mothers respond and meet their needs. The baby is happy and learns to trust that mommy will always be there to provide for them. Not so with RAD children. Their circle has been broken. Elle cried, but because of multiple caregivers, her needs were not met. She learned she couldn’t trust anyone would meet her needs, so she learned to provide for herself…because she was the only one she could trust.

She carries around a lot of anger and abandonment issues. You may never see them, but they are buried deep behind her brown eyes. RAD children target their mothers. For years she has stolen and destroyed my things and directed her anger and resentment at me. She adores her daddy, but she can’t bond with either of us. Especially me. For years, friends and family have wondered what was wrong with me. She was a charming child, why was I so hard on her? Why couldn’t I give her a break? My anger and resentment spilled over to my relationship with her, with my husband, with my family, with Bunny and with myself. I couldn’t take it anymore.

But when Elle was diagnosed with RAD, maybe, just maybe, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. We got help, and finally, things started to get a little better. Elle was in a different school, one that worked with us and understood why we took her out of school every Friday afternoon for therapy, and why we are taking her out of school for a week to go to a RAD camp.

We have come along way, but we still have a long way to go. Elle has built a brick wall around her heart and won’t let anyone in. The wall is so strong she hides behind it anytime she has to deal with an emotion she doesn’t want to deal with. She doesn’t know how to love. She doesn’t know how to trust. But we are working on it. We are working to chip away at the wall. I have fundamentally changed my life in the last year. Colby and I have fundamentally changed the way we parent in the last year. Elle has made some progress, but she still has a way to go. We have a way to go.

But we will bring the wall down. One brick at a time…together.

Elle, I know you are reading this post. You know I love you with all of my heart. Together, we can do anything.