Saturday, February 17, 2018

Florida School Shooting and the Underground World of RAD

There is an underground world of RAD moms and they are more frightened than ever this week. The Reactive Attachment Disorder facebook groups are lit up with information and worry about the Florida shooter. It's coming up because the shooter was adopted, the police were at his home multiple times as he grew up, and then to top off his trauma, his adoptive parents died. These RAD moms are saying: "This will be my kid someday."  and "This is why my child with RAD needs to be somewhere safe."

We don't yet know what Nikolas Cruz's early years were like, and may never know as his adoptive parents are deceased but there are a lot of similarities to the life we know.

New York Times: 
In the hours after the shooting, people who knew Mr. Cruz described him as a "troubled kid" who enjoyed showing off his firearms, bragging about killing animals and whose mother would resort to calling the police to have them come to their home to try to talk some sense into him.

Broward County Mayor Beam Furr said during an interview with CNN that the shooter was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but that he hadn't been back to the clinic for more than a year.  "It wasn't like there wasn't concern for him," Furr said. "We try to keep our eyes out on those kids who aren't connected ... Most teachers try to steer them toward some kind of connections. ... In this case, we didn't find a way to connect with this kid," Furr said. 

Gordon Weeks, another attorney representing Cruz, added, “When your brain is not fully developed, you don’t know how to deal with these things. That’s the child I’m sitting across from. The child is deeply troubled and he has endured significant trauma that stems from the loss of his mother.” 

As RAD moms, we wonder, "Does Nikolas Cruz have RAD?"

What is Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD?

A quick and easy description is given by the Institute of Attachment and Child Development: A disorder in which children’s brains and development get disrupted by trauma they endured before the age of 3. They’re unable to trust others and attach in relationships.

Unfortunately, it's so much more than that quick and easy description.

RAD is often thought of as only a mental illness that adopted children suffer from but this is not true. I know children with RAD who are step kids, bio kids, foster kids, and adopted kids. This isn't an adoption issue, this is a trauma issue. As children from severe trauma often end up in the system and are adopted, RAD is most often found in the adoption world. However, not all adopted children have RAD.

RAD symptoms:

• cannot give or receive affection
• no empathy
• extreme manipulation
• long arguments over ridiculous things

• often engaging and charming, but only superficially
• nonsense questions and unrelenting chatter
• “mad peeing” (peeing all over the house when angry, years after potty training and up into teen years—this can happen with feces as well)

• crazy lying and stealing
• little eye contact
• no cause and effect thinking
• poor hygiene

• parents (particularly the mother) seem hostile and/or confused

Severe RAD symptoms are the above and also:

• threatening behavior, particularly toward the mother and siblings
• hurting or killing pets
• abusing mother and/or siblings--physical, emotional, verbal, psychological, sexual
• false allegations
• threatening harm to self or others
• gaslighting 

Again, these behaviors all stem from early childhood abuse and/or neglect. Children with RAD are angry and they have every right to be.

If Nikolas had early childhood trauma, from losing his birth mother and/or abuse or neglect, then he could have undiagnosed RAD. As we all scroll through facebook and watch the news we are faced with judgements aimed at the adoptive parents of Nikolas: 

"He needed more discipline."
"A good spanking would have fixed him."
"Where were his parents?"
"Maybe this wouldn't have happened if the parents would have spent more time with him."
"Why wasn't he in therapy?"

The mere thought of this riles RAD moms. We work hard to get help for our children with RAD, we learn therapeutic parenting skills, we beg for help but are more often than not met with misunderstanding and simple parenting strategies. "Try a sticker chart!" we are told. "Hug them more, spend more time with them. They just need more love!" We are not believed when we tell the truth, "My child is trying to harm her brother." We are surrounded by ignorant (not stupid, but ignorant) "professionals" who have very little, if any, trauma training. 

We need and want help but there are so few resources out there and the good ones are often private only. No insurance will cover them. If RAD parents are able to get their child in, these resources can work on the children with less severe RAD. 

But what about the children with severe RAD? 

These are the kids who have killed their pets and the parents are not believed. 

These are the children whose parents have had to defend themselves against physical attacks, have been listening to their child with RAD tell them she wants to kill them and then they find the knives she's been hiding in her bedroom and the parents are not believed

These are the kids who have tried to maim and/or kill their siblings (please read about glass children!) and the parents are not believed. 

These are children who rape their younger siblings and the parents are not believed

These are the kids that no one knows how to help. Yet. Some of them can live in super structured group homes where people care for them but do not love them. As surprising as that seems, the "care not love" can help. Love is much too frightening for children with RAD. Love triggers them and creates the violent behaviors. This is hard to believe. It took me years to realize the truth. To get an inkling of how this works, read the bottom paragraph of this post. Others end up in prison for the things they do. Still others continue to be in their adoptive homes and the entire household lives under video cameras and terror.

What You Can Do

As a nation, we know we need better mental health services but what can you do, right now, today?

Be kind. Suspend disbelief. Reserve judgement. Listen. Find out more. Be supportive. 

The next time you hear about a troubled child, don't immediately jump to the conclusion that the parents are at fault. When you hear about a mom who has found a group home, an RTC (Residential Treatment Center), a boarding school, or a wilderness camp for their child with RAD and you think, "How could she?? I could never!" please remember she isn't talking about children like yours. She's talking about a kid who could easily be the next mass shooter. She's not being a drama queen, she's lived through things you might be thankful you don't know about. Her search for a safe place for her child with RAD, is to keep her family safe, her loved ones and friends safe, her community safe, and her mentally ill child as safe as possible. We don't want our child with RAD to have the opportunity to hurt others. We don't want to be the parents of the next mass shooter. If you know someone who is making a decision to place a child she loves outside of the home, support her. Then, hold your healthy children close and be thankful for what you don't know.

Join The Underground World of RAD facebook group.

Hi, I'm Julia and I'm a trauma-informed certified Equine Gestalt Coach, Reiki Master, and artist. I combine my skills to create an individualized care plan for each client. As an adoptive mother of two (one healthy and one with RAD), I am intimately familiar with the trials and tribulations RAD moms and their glass children face as they navigate the muddy waters of life with a mentally ill child. While I see many types of people in my practice, my heart and my specialty is the health and healing of RAD moms and their glass children. 
Learn more at The Mother Ranch.



  1. Praying we find ways to help kids who are not yet fully able to receive love. Thankful for those of you who are pioneering the effort. Thank you for this article!

    1. Thank you for reading! I pray for the same thing!

  2. thank you for sharing. eye opening and heart wrenching. praying for these moms and dads.

    1. Heather, thank you for keeping an open heart while reading and for praying for these moms and dads. It's a hard life to live and when no one believes much harder.

  3. Thankyou for acknowledging and bringing to light that not all adoptive children are RAD children and that it's strictly an adoptive issue but trauma instead. THANKYOU

    1. So important to know! My son is also adopted and attached. There are healthy, happy, well adjusted adopted children out there :-) Thank you for reading and commenting. Please share with others so we can continue getting the word out!

  4. As a parent of an adopted child with RAD, I can NOT agree with this article enough! This article speaks volumes to the validity of what parents with RAD children live through...and this is only the tip of the iceberg! So many times, teachers, therapist, and others would not believe what was happening and would say it was my (or my husbands fault). I was so tired of having to defend myself to EVERYONE and dispute all the false accusations against us to DHR social workers. It was so frustrating, humiliating and absolutely MADDENING to have to live through the abuse every single day and have my other 2 children suffering at the hands of their older brother. There were times when I literally felt as if I was the only beginning to go crazy.....This article speaks to my life, my heart and my inner soul! Thank you for putting my feelings and thoughts into words!

    1. It's exhausting! And the feeling of going crazy, having to live life in a bubble because no one sees what's going on but you--maddening is a perfect description.
      You are WELCOME! Thank YOU for reading and commenting! If you are so inspired, please share to continue to get the word out! Almost 60,000 people have read this in 36 hours! People are opening their hearts and HEARING us.

  5. Eye opening and very informative. Thank you

    1. Thank you for reading with an open mind and heart. If you are able, would you please share this post either to your facebook page or through email? Every person sharing helps a new group of people learn the truth.

  6. I am a parent of a RAD Child. Could you please point me to one some of the facebook groups for parents of child with RAD. Your post expresses our families life to the tee. If the groups are private, please pass on my information to the admins or email or message me.

    1. Celtic Sailor, please email me at and I'll help you! The groups are almost all secret and aren't easily found. Thank you!

  7. Why is it therapist think the "sticker chart" is a fix all for everything. My daughter doesn't have RAD but her birth mom did drink and do drugs while pregnant. For some reason my daughter was scared to death of the toilet up until age 7. We tried everything and different therapists. It would enrage me when they would tell me to try a sticker chart. I had parented 3 boys and potty trained them. I know how sticker charts work. And they were not working for a child that had a severe fear of the toilet no matter how irrational everyone thought it was. I was also told she was just trying to control me and I should withhold love and affection until she learned to go on the toilet :( No one was willing to actually work with her to find out why she was afraid. They would ask surface questions and when she would not answer or change the subject they gave up. Seriously, I think the mental health professionals just don't know how to help. The best training I had was with Karyn Purvis. I think she really got adopted children. We need real mental health professionals who have taken Karyn's training and are willing to help parents understand what is really going on with these children. I can totally understand how a parent with a child with RAD would just give up on the whole therapist route after becoming frustrated with the whole your child needs more discipline and a sticker chart theory. My heart aches for these families that need real help and are not getting it.

    1. I'm so glad you were able to finally find some good training that worked for you! I believe it's up to those of us who are "trauma-informed" professionals AND parents who are in the trenches every day to educate the majority of professionals who don't get it. The word is getting out there!

  8. At about age 14 my son was drawing killing pics, spitting in my face, hurting me and I took him to counseling,what a joke, diagnosed as bi-polar. Got into a relationship,terrified her!Kicked dashboard out if my car. Started drugs and drinking! I finally found out out he was being sexually abused by an old man claiming all the boys hanging out were helping him clean up his place!As he fed them drugs and alcohol. Thank God he died, I was in process of having him arrested! I blame myself, I thought he was earning money and staying out of trouble. 3 of other boys took their lives!

    1. You were raising your son to be a responsible kid-how could you know that this horrible man was wreaking havoc in your son and his friends?
      How is your son now? Were you ever able to find a trauma-informed professional? Where are you located?

  9. I can't read this without crying. Crying because it is my life. Crying because it is my child. And crying because she is one of the very severe cases and will age out in an RTC far from home. My heart aches for her, for the childhood she should have had and for the beautiful young woman she should be becoming. I mourn the loss of her, of the dream of the family I was hoping we would be.
    I have learned more about childhood trauma than anyone should ever have to know. My family has had to educate themselves and even armed with knowledge, they still fully admit that they have no idea of what our lives are really like.
    I have been told hundreds of times "But remember, you wanted this".
    I did. I wanted it. I asked for it. Fought for it. Paid for it. In so many ways I have paid.
    I chose a hard road. I chose that. And for most of the miles, as hard and dark as they were, I walked them alone.
    This trauma, the very trauma that damaged them so severely, all of it, is preventable.
    Have I been damaged in the process. Yes, painful, raw damage. Like my kids, I now bare the PTSD diagnosis.
    Would I do it again to save them, in a heartbeat.
    I love my kids. Even if they are not capable of loving me back, I love and I pray for them.
    And as desperately as I wanted it to work, as much as I thought I could love them through it, the cold reality is that sometimes love is just not enough.

  10. I also have a daughter in elementary with RAD. She's not biologically mine but I love her the same as my 3 biological children. I have struggled for years trying to get her help not just thereapy but in the school system as well. Along with people looking at me like I'm crazy when I try to talk about things she does ect bc she doesn't do it in front of them. It has caused friction in my marriage even. There's a lot of times I just cry at night because I feel alone in this battle. It wasn't until a year ago when I finally had someone who listened to me and noticed she was different. We were referred to a center for therapy and to be tested for autism. That's when we met my daughter's therapist who has been a heaven sent to me. The 1st person that finally believed everything I said even finished my sentences of situations I would go to explain that happens. That's when I found out about RAD and that my daughter is a RAD child. Yet my daughter still has others fooled and has people, including family. I would love to know about any other mom's and groups for parents with RAD children.