RAD Signs, Symptoms & Effects In Children

Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of reactive attachment disorder is an important part of the effort to get treatment for a child or adolescentAt Little Creek Behavioral Health in Conway, Arkansas, we’re proud to be a source of information and comprehensive care for young people ages 12-18 who have been struggling with reactive attachment disorder and other mental health conditions. 

Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder

Learn about reactive attachment disorder 

Reactive attachment disorder is a mental health condition that affects a child’s ability to form attachments with adult caregivers. Children struggling with this condition may experience symptoms of anxiety that prevent them from appropriately interacting with peers and adults. Children who received improper care or upbringing in an environment with frequent change, instability, and a lack of individual attention are at risk for developing reactive attachment disorder. 

Children usually receive this diagnosis between ages 1-5, as this allows mental health professionals to determine the impact these symptoms are having on a child’s development. This narrow age range may prevent some children from receiving proper diagnosis and mental health services. 

Children struggling with reactive attachment disorder may display behaviors that are similar to those of autism spectrum disorder or developmental delays. It is important to note that a child cannot be diagnosed at the same time with both autism and reactive attachment disorder, as the two conditions are too closely related. 

It is common for children and adolescents suffering from reactive attachment disorder to develop other concerns, such as speech and cognitive delays. These developmental issues may require rehabilitation alongside comprehensive mental health services to manage symptoms of reactive attachment disorder. 

If you have concerns about your child’s behaviors or you want to learn more about reactive attachment disorder, consult a mental health professional. 


Statistics about reactive attachment disorder

The Scientific World Journal and The Journaof Psychiatry state the following about reactive attachment disorder and its prevalence in the United States: 

  • In 2013, approximately 1.4% of children were living with reactive attachment disorder. 
  • Boys suffering from reactive attachment disorder often display symptoms that are similar to those of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
  • Children who have experienced severe neglect are more likely to develop reactive attachment disorder than children with no history of neglect. 

Causes & Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for reactive attachment disorder 

Environment plays a large role in the development of reactive attachment disorder, as children and adolescents who experience trauma have a greater chance of suffering from this condition. While not a guarantee that a child will develop reactive attachment disorder, risk factors include: 

  • Having parents or caregivers who did not provide adequate affection or comfort 
  • Frequent changes in parents and caregivers, such as moving between foster homes or periods of caregiver absence 
  • Receiving care in limited and unstable physical environments, such as shelters, hospitals, or large institutions 

Once a child receives a positive change-of-environment and care for reactive attachment disorder, symptoms of this condition typically resolveSince young people usually receive early intervention following severe neglect, those who are at the highest risk for this condition may not display symptoms. 

Signs & Symptoms

Symptoms of reactive attachment disorder 

Each child living with reactive attachment disorder may present different signs and symptoms based on their circumstances. Children who experience physical symptoms, such as malnutrition, may improve entirely after receiving medical care. Young people suffering from this condition may exhibit some of the following mental, behavioral, and physical symptoms: 

Mental symptoms: 

  • Sadness or fearfulness during basic interactions with caregivers 

Behavioral symptoms: 

  • Poor response to stress 
  • Does not seek or respond to comfort 
  • Difficulty engaging socially 
  • Demonstrates little to no interest in play 
  • Does not ask for help in distressing situations 
  • Rarely smiles 

Physical symptoms: 

  • Malnutrition 
  • Skin problems, such as rashes or open wounds 


Effects of reactive attachment disorder

If left untreated, reactive attachment disorder has the potential to impact many areas of a child’s life. If a young person does not receive appropriate care for this mental health conditionthey may experience adverse effects such as: 

  • Difficulty forming relationships with parents, caregivers, teachers, coaches, and family 
  • Withdrawal from social situations 
  • Poor academic performance 
  • Difficulty managing stress 

If your child receives mental health services to address the symptoms of reactive attachment disorder, they have a much greater chance of effectively dealing with this condition. 

Co-Occurring Disorders

Common co-occurring disorders among children and adolescents who have reactive attachment disorder 

Young people who are living with reactive attachment disorder may have an increased risk for various co-occurring conditions and concerns, including the following:  

  • Language delays 
  • Cognitive delays 
  • Movement disorders 
  • Depression 
  • Certain medical conditions 

Little Creek Behavioral Health provides comprehensive mental health programming to assist children and adolescents struggling with reactive attachment disorder and other mental health conditions. Our facility offers services that address the unique needs of each young person who seeks our care. 

Marks of Quality Care
  • The Joint Commission (JCAHO) Gold Seal of Approval