I find myself preparing a presentation on Reactive Attachment Disorder for a very special audience, members of my church who hope to make a difference for people living with disabilities. We will be meeting to talk about inclusion and accessibility and I will be sharing some of my experience helping my daughter and family build a secure attachment after her adoption at 2 ½ from a Russian orphanage. This is not the first time I have either spoken or written about RAD, my daughter or our family. What is unique, is that I will be speaking to people who have witnessed her transition from a raging five year old to a confident young teen.
They were there when we hauled her screaming out of the church on Sunday mornings or made her strong sit in the aisles. They were there when we helped her say a cautious hello to friends at coffee hour. Now, she glides from friend to friend and often accepts invitations to visit afterwards at their homes. They saw as she first cringed in her seat and watched, then tentatively held our hands and now holds the microphone and speaks her joys and concerns clearly before the entire congregation. They watched her as one hesitant angel among many in the holiday pageant, then a silent star leading the parade. Two weeks ago, she stood in the pulpit and welcomed everyone to our worship service.
This group has heard my poetry, shared my tears, and publically dedicated themselves to embracing my daughter. Many have reached out to ask how they can help. They have touched our lives and become a system of support and friendship that we never imagined possible. They have become the community that every family needs to raise a child with special needs.
Now they are expressing a willingness to learn more. So, I will share the basics, how attachments are built one neural pathway at a time by infinite interactions between mother or caregiver and infant. How this astonishing system is jeopardized by abuse and/or neglect and the brain fails to develop healthily in reaction. I will share with them that attachment disorders can be healed due to children’s resilience, the brain’s plasticity and parents’ determination and love.
There are two other vital ingredients. Therapists, doctors and other healthcare professionals must be adequately and appropriately trained in attachment theory and practice and all those working with the family must be working together. And, there must be a community of support. Our daughter would not be the engaged, confident and popular young woman she has become without the incredible, ongoing support of our UU congregation.