Child of Rage was a documentary from the early 1990's on HBO about a six and a half year old child named Beth who was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, RAD. It's a disturbing true story of a baby who was abused and neglected before being removed from her home and adopted at nineteen months old. She remembers being molested and raped by her birth father, and when she was removed from her home the workers found that she had not been given sufficient food. Her brother, who was also removed, was seven months old and found in a crib soaked with urine. The back of his head was completely flat and the front bulging out from being forced to lay in his crib for extended periods of time. Their mother had died when Beth was one year old, and they were left at the mercy of their father. Beth displayed violent behavior, including sticking pins in her little brother and household pets, and often talked of killing her family members. During one instance of rage, she smashed her little brother's head into a cement floor repeatedly until being stopped by her mother. She also on several occasions was caught molesting her little brother, and had exhibited inappropriate sexual behaviors including masturbating to the point of self-injury necessitating medical intervention. After the initial therapeutic evaluation, the therapist recommended removing Beth from her home and placing her in a residential treatment center with a women who specialized in children with attachment disorders, including children who have murdered others. After years of intensive treatment, Beth began to improve and exhibited an understanding of cause and effect, had a better grasp of right and wrong, and appeared to develop a conscience.
We talked in class about attachment theory, and the causes and effects of different attachment styles. We learned that children who are securely attached have parents that responded to them quickly, effectively, and consistently, and children who did not have these types of parents were likely to develop attachment problems. RAD is an extreme form of attachment disorder in which the child affected can not give or receive love, has an extreme need for control, and behaves in violent, abusive, and manipulative ways. Most children with parents who did not respond to them quickly, effectively, and consistently have insecure attachments, but not RAD which is rare. In children with RAD, the brain has not formed the necessary neural connections to process love and attachment. These children never bonded with their primary caregivers in a way that fostered the brain development necessary for attachment.
Though this story is gut wrenching, several observations can be made from it. First, it illustrates the absolute necessity of early attachment for good mental health. Second, it demonstrates that even at such a young age when children can not yet talk, reason, or usually remember, abuse and neglect still have devastating effects. Third, this story is eye-opening for those who believe that loving a child can cure any trauma. Unfortunately, sometimes loving a child is not enough as Beth's adoptive parents showered her with love for years, but her behaviors were still destructive. Fourth, it acts as a caution to potential adoptive parents to understand what the road ahead could hold for them. I am pro-adoption, but I also believe that education for adoptive parents is essential. The decision to adopt should be made with full understanding that the children could require more care than parents had previously thought possible. Finally, this story is truly one of hope. Even in cases that seem like there is no hope, no solution, and no end in sight, recovery can occur though the road is not easy. Today, Beth is a nurse and is functioning normally in society. She started an organization with her mother for troubled children, and has helped many families dealing with children with attachment problems. Her entire story is written in the book, Dandelion On My Pillow, Butcher Knife Beneath, and the website created by her mother, www.attachment.org, contains resources on attachment for parents, adoptees, and counselors.