What is RAD Diagnosis | RAD Definition – Reactive Attachment Disorder DSM 5

What is RAD? What is a RAD diagnosis? In the DSM 5 manual, the Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) definition is classified as an attachment disorder in children where RAD kids struggle to establish attachments or maintain healthy relationships with caregivers and family members. This is usually caused by a baby’s emotional or physical needs being neglected for an extended period of time.


RAD children show a consistent pattern of not seeking out comfort when distressed or responding to comfort when given.

A diagnosis is made by a doctor or mental health provider based on meeting a set number of criteria and by ruling out other issues such as an autism spectrum disorder. Reactive attachment disorder DSM 5 states that diagnosis isn’t usually made before 9 months, but signs and symptoms appear before the age of five.

Criteria includes:

Consistent pattern of emotionally withdrawn behavior towards caregivers, including not seeking or responding to comfort when distressed

Continued social and emotional problems including lack of responsiveness to others, no positive response to interactions, or unexplained sadness, irritability, or fearfulness during interactions with caregivers

Persistent lack of having emotional needs and stimulations met by caregivers, or having repeated caregivers and change in primary caregivers that limit the opportunity to form stable attachments, or care in setting the limits the formation of stable attachments

Not all children who have been separated from a parent will have attachment issues.

This video provides parents information about attachment disorder in children and treatment options available.

Treatment for RAD will focus on establishing a relationship with a caregiver that is healthy, stable and consistent. If a child has been hurt they will find ways to protect their emotions. It is important to be consistent in your child’s life as inconsistency will reinforce a child’s belief that adults are not to be trusted. This will take time to change. Do not be discouraged. Parent’s need to work to understand situations from the point of view of the child as trust will be based upon a child’s perception and not upon the parents.

Behavior skills can help a parent establish trust by breaking down barriers and finding new ways to relate.

Using the skills of Effective Praise and Effective Communication taught on the Smarter Parenting website, caregivers can learn how to offer specific praise for things a child is doing right (no matter how small), and, how to better listen and respond to their child so that they can better understand their child’s point of view. These two skills will do much to establish trust and build a healthy and strong relationship.

Treatment with behavior skills is the most effective treatment in helping parents and children.

Additional behavior skills and RAD help can be found on the Smarter Parenting website.

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