Disorders of Attachment are developmental and neurobiological conditions that affect children. Parents of RAD and DSED diagnosed children know too well the heart breaking feeling when the child you love and protect lashes out at you. Domination and mistrust are characteristic of many children with RAD and DSED.
RAD stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder. DSED stands for Dis-Inhibited Social Engagement Disorder. These two diagnoses break attachment disordered children into two groups depending on whether the child is overly outgoing or withdrawn. Medline Plus discusses how food is one way these disorders manifest in children.
This article will focus on the Domination and Mistrust aspect of disordered attachment. Please look for other articles to learn more about RAD, DSED, causation, and interventions.
A child with disordered attachment went to a lovely restaurant with her caregivers of 4 years. These caregivers have held, cradled, rocked, and loved this child to all their might. When the child acted out in a violent rage, they firmly but gently held her until she calmed down.
The caregivers engaged in intensive interventions to help the child create a sense of safety, trust, abunance of food, and loving attention. The child had been the victim of abuse during infancy and early childhood that caused the disordered attachment.
On this evening, the child got excited to order an adult meal from the pictures on the menu. The caregivers agreed to allow her to order the adult meal even though she was still in first grade as long as they shared. One of the adults shared her appetizer with the child. The other adult shared his beverage.
When the child finished eating his food, one of the caregivers asked “are you done” and reached for the plate. The child snapped into a state of mistrust and domination, grabbing the plate and jerking it away from the caregiver.
Just a moment before, this was a happy and joyful little girl who was having a wonderful time at a lovely restaurant! She had just ordered the meal she wanted from the adult menu. She was sharing food and drinks with her caregivers. Her caregivers were giving her focused time and attention.
The history of this child’s nutrition is part of the issue. As an infant, she had been locked in a room for hours without food. The child had been fed and cared for at daycare, but did not fare so well on weekends and holidays.
During the early days of therapy, the child stole food from the refrigerator. No matter how stable the child’s meal schedule or access to food, she could never get over her fear of hunger. The need to take and hide food dominated her thoughts, and were reflected in her behavior at the restaurant that night.
Naturally, this little one does not really trust the world to feed her and care for her needs. She suffered through several years of intense abuse and neglect. Even though she has been in a therapeutic home with trained therapeutic caregivers, the instinct to grasp and hoard food remains.
During the first two or three years of therapeutic care, this little girl had her breakfast waiting out for her every morning. When she woke up, she ran to a special place in the kitchen to find a plate that was carefully prepared with healthy foods that were associated with happy meal times.
In addition to having breakfast laid out for her ahead of time, this child had access to healthy snacks any time she wanted. The caregivers maintained places around the house with fruit, nuts, and whole grain crackers. The child knew she could have a healthy snack any time she wanted.
In spite of all this care and intensive intervention, this little girl still is deeply mistrustful that the universe will feed her. In that restaurant, the reflex to grasp and hold on to food took over. It was like a self protective instinct. She switched into a dominating mode and demanded that her food not be touched.
The child’s dominating and greedy behavior was sad to her caregivers. They had worked for years to help her learn to share food. Food sharing was part of the child’s intensive intervention program.
The caregivers wiped the little drops of tears from their eyes and smiled at the child. They explained that sharing is part of the family culture. They reminded the child that they had agreed to share, and that she had already had food and drink from her caregivers.
They asked the child to think through what happened and try to figure out how she could do better next time. After a few minutes of seething, the little girl calmed down and returned to her normal self. She apologized for being rude and grabbing the plate.
The little family left the restaurant together holding hands. The child gave a picture she had drawn to the cashier and asked of her drawing could be posted on the wall. She was engaging and charming to the cashier.
Over time, the child’s outbursts are less intense. She gets over them more quickly. In just a few minutes she was back to normal and able to apologize. Thankfully, she was calm and happy the rest of the evening, signaling her incredible growth and development.
The caregivers embraced one another in comfort. The road to recovery can be long and hard for children who lost faith in the universe to love, protect, and care for them.
Each one of you who cares for a child with disordered attachment is a blessing. Please be kind to yourself and remember that it takes times to help children who had no reason for hope … to begin to trust again.
The process is long, arduous, and complex. Children require behavioral interventions, therapeutic intervention, and constant training and education about social and emotional skills.
Join us as we journey through issues related to disordered attachment. We take a brain-based approach that incorporates socioemotional education and behavior intervention with trauma support. Over time, the attachment disorder symptoms calm down and begin to disappear.
Whether a child is diagnosed with RAD or DSED, some of the interventions are quite similar. The more caregivers learn about effective interventions, the easier the road will be as a parent or caregiver to a child of disordered attachment.
Sponsored by The Orchard Human Services, Inc.