- Reactive Attachment Disorder is easily diagnosed by means of a checklist. On the contrary, there is no validated method for diagnosing Reactive Attachment Disorder, particularly for children past toddlerhood. (Unusual social behaviors may combine with past history to suggest this diagnosis in children who have not yet developed more mature social skills.) The checklist referenced by Nancy Thomas in the HuffPo program is in fact derived from a much older list that was supposed to identify whether children masturbated (!). It is also associated with the Randolph Attachment Disorder Questionnaire, a paper-and-pencil test (to be answered by parents, not children) devised by one Elizabeth Randolph and never subjected to the serious validation work we demand of diagnostic instruments. The criteria mentioned by Thomas are highly subjective, by the way: that the child is “charming”, “has no conscience”, and does not make eye contact “except when lying”; a parent convinced by Thomas (who is remarkably charming herself) can easily see these characteristics in almost any child.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder is associated with psychopathy. The claim that children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder will grow up to be psychopaths/serial killers (as exemplified by Hitler and Ted Bundy) is a commonly made by proponents of the alternative psychological theory of attachment espoused by Thomas and others. This claim is simply PFA-- Pulled From the Air. Many serial killers are known to have been neglected or abused children, but the great majority of these unfortunate children do not become psychopaths. Even if all serial killers were known to have been neglected or abused-- and this is NOT known—it would be a fallacy to state that all such children become psychopaths. (And, by the way, I am not claiming that psychopaths and serial killers are the same thing; I’m just borrowing the language of Thomas and her friends.) Incidentally, reports from the English-Romanian Adoptees study show that children who might actually have been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder as preschoolers were in fact outgoing, sociable, and popular as adolescents.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder is present at birth. Kinzel reported being told that “when a pregnancy is not wanted, the woman’s body puts out different chemicals than in a wanted pregnancy. And even before the baby is born they can have RAD.” Certainly the stress of an unwanted pregnancy can cause hormonal differences, but so can any other form of severe stress; is the claim that all stressed pregnancies, including those where the father is deployed with the military or where another child is seriously ill, will cause Reactive Attachment Disorder? This is difficult to fathom (and am I the only person who is reminded of that statement about women’s bodies being able to prevent pregnancy if they’re raped?). In addition, all the established information about attachment shows that attachment of a baby to a parent is not present at the time of birth, but develops gradually and is demonstrated only in the second half of the first year. No attachment, no attachment disorder, this would suggest; therefore, no Reactive Attachment Disorder at birth. To claim that an unborn or newborn baby is aware of a mother’s rejection is essentially to range oneself on the side of the Scientologists and the primal therapists, not on the side of child development research.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder can occur because of events after the toddler period. Kinzel also says he was told “Usually a psychopath is damaged before 3. But RAD can be at any time.” There is no question that neglect, abuse, and unpredictable living conditions or custody can distress and disturb children of any age, and adults too, for that matter. Older children who are ill-treated will be angry and depressed and may well learn by imitation to be cruel to others. However, Reactive Attachment Disorder is a disturbance of a basic social behavior that involves a preference for the company of familiar people, especially in threatening or stressful conditions. This social behavior typically changes dramatically after the preschool years, as children learn social skills and advance cognitively so that they can tell real threats from “scary” ones. Even ill-treated children continue to develop in this way. The idea that Reactive Attachment Disorder suddenly “strikes” an older child is reminiscent of Jenny McCarthy’s claim that she saw her son’s soul leave his eyes when he was vaccinated.
- Reactive Attachment Disorder involves failure of cause-and-effect thinking. Now, this one is a pip. I have no idea where Thomas et al picked it up, but it sure sounds scienterrific, doesn’t it? I won’t even get into the fact that cause-and-effect thinking is present even in babies a few months old and would be necessary for the learning of language, for play even at the peek-a-boo level, and for holding a bottle (but, of course, Thomas says not to let them hold their bottles, because they might not learn that parents are the only authority and source of satisfaction). What Thomas and the gang really mean, I think, is that children who are diagnosed as having Reactive Attachment Disorder by quasi-professional therapists are usually in the office to begin with because their parents haven’t managed to get them to be obedient or compliant. This situation is described by saying that they don’t connect bad behavior with punishment because they haven’t got you-know-what. But wait! These are the same children who are falsely charming and manipulative in order to get their own way-- so don’t they understand that being charming causes the effect they want? It seems they have cause-and-effect thinking and don’t have it at the same time, depending on what they’re doing and what the alternative therapist wants to explain. (But although she doesn’t say so publicly, I have to wonder whether Thomas thinks demons make them do it.)
Thursday, May 1, 2014
HuffPo Spreads Garbage About Reactive Attachment Disorder
The Huffington Post has once again posted a story that is startling in its inaccuracy, but perhaps not surprising in its blatant appeal to sensationalism. Like many such stories, it is about BAD CHILDREN Who Might Kill You, and although it does not specifically say you’d better attack them first, such is the implication of the story. I refer to the description of Eric Kinzel’s family at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/23/reactive-attachment-disorder_n_5199552.html, starring that darling of Focus on the Family and the Westminster dog show, Nancy Thomas.
The HuffPo story purports to tell about two adopted children, both of whom had been badly neglected and one of whom was afflicted with a “rare disorder” associated with the absence of emotional attachment, Reactive Attachment Disorder. Local practitioners identified the disorder and told the father that without treatment the child would become a psychopath. Nancy Thomas, a “therapeutic parenting specialist” (i.e., a foster parent) later stated that the disorder came from fear of abandonment and created “destructive instincts”. The child was eventually removed from the Kinzel family.
I want to note some claims made by participants in this program and comment on each of them.
It was a pity, really, to put Kinzel out in the limelight like this. He was either confused by the situation, or he can’t tell the difference between “conscious” and “conscience”-- though this may be the result of being talked at, at length, about his “psychopathic” adopted child. But of course the real point of this program was to advertise Thomas and her empire of therapeutic foster care and camps. I noticed no reference to the fact that a few weeks ago the American Psychological Association cancelled the continuing professional education credits that were supposed to be earned by attendance at one of Thomas’s lectures. (I have the e-mails to show this, so there’s no point coming after me with lawyers.) Some of us are watching the titans of the RAD biz, but whether we can fight their commercial power successfully, I don’t know. HuffPo is no help-- that I do know.