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Adoption After Age 3: Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder

Adoption After Age 3: Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder

June 24, 20248 min read

Adoption After Age 3: Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder

Adoption is a beautiful journey that brings joy and fulfillment to families. However, adopting a child after the age of three presents unique challenges and opportunities. At Life Quest Girls Academy, we are dedicated to supporting families through this process, ensuring that both parents and children thrive. A critical aspect to consider is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which can significantly impact the adoption experience.

The Challenges of Adopting After Age 3

Adopting a child after the age of three can be more complex than adopting an infant. By this age, children have already formed attachments and many have had various traumatic experiences that shape their emotional and psychological development. This can lead to a more challenging adjustment period for both the child and the adoptive parents.  In many cases, adopted children exercise their fight or flight instincts against the new nurturing family who has adopted them.  Interestingly, the adoptive parents become the “nurturing enemy” who, because of the attachment disorder, the child rejects and fights against.  This fight is usually more targeted towards the mother figure and can become violent and dangerous for all other family members.  In these cases and circumstances, out of home placement becomes a viable and welcoming option for families.     

  • Older children may have experienced trauma, neglect, or inconsistent caregiving.

  • These experiences can influence their ability to form secure attachments with their new family.

Adoptive parents must be prepared for these challenges and understand that patience and support are key. Life Quest Girls Academy offers a nurturing environment to help families navigate these complexities.

Understanding Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a condition that can develop in children who have not formed healthy attachments with caregivers in their early years. This disorder is particularly relevant for children adopted after age three, as they may have had disrupted or adverse early traumatic  life experiences.

  • RAD is characterized by difficulties in forming emotional bonds with others.

  • Children with RAD may exhibit withdrawn, sad, and listless behavior or may act out aggressively.

Recognizing the signs of RAD early can help in seeking appropriate interventions. Although Life Quest Girls Academy does not diagnose or treat RAD, we have success with girls who have been diagnosed with RAD by professionals and offer a supportive environment to foster their development.  Life Quest Girls Academy focuses on two main objectives:

#1: Academics (Students can make up needed credits that go towards high school graduation, or students can go at an accelerated pace towards high school graduation)

#2:  Life Skills Attainment.  Our proprietary Life Quest Practicum is a required course that is geared towards life skills attainment and life skills practice.  This course also provides elective credits towards high school graduation.

Signs and Symptoms of RAD

Understanding the signs and symptoms of RAD is crucial for adoptive parents. Awareness of these can lead to early intervention and better outcomes for the child.

  • Difficulty showing affection or responding to comfort from others.

  • Avoidance of physical contact or eye contact.

  • Unexplained anger, sadness, or irritability.

  • Resentment and hostilities towards their new non adopted siblings.

Children with RAD may also struggle with trust and may exhibit extreme behaviors to avoid closeness or to test boundaries. Adoptive parents need to approach these behaviors with empathy and consistency.

signs and symptoms of rad

Seeking Professional Help

Diagnosing RAD requires a comprehensive evaluation by a mental health professional. This evaluation often includes a thorough history of the child's early life experiences and behavior observations.

  • Mental health professionals can use various tools and assessments to diagnose RAD.

  • It is important to differentiate RAD from other behavioral or emotional disorders.

While Life Quest Girls Academy does not have trained professionals on staff for diagnosing RAD, we encourage families to seek evaluations from qualified mental health professionals. We work closely with families and their healthcare providers to support the needs of students with RAD.  Life Quest Girls Academy discourages individual therapy for children diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder.  However, Life Quest highly encourages family therapy where everyone is in the room together and working towards the same goals.  For this to be productive, all participants must be willing to work through family therapy.  Individual therapy leads to manipulation and triangulation and is counterproductive in our experience and opinion.  

Creating a Supportive Environment

Treatment for RAD typically involves a combination of therapy, education, and support for both the child and the adoptive family. The goal is to help the child develop healthy relationships and emotional responses.

  • Family therapy to strengthen the bond between the child and the adoptive parents.

Why is Life Quest Girls Academy Successful With Students Diagnosed With R.A.D.?

At Life Quest Girls Academy, we create a structured, supportive environment that helps girls with RAD thrive. Our staff is trained to provide a consistent, structured atmosphere where they will be held accountable for their choices, which is crucial for children dealing with attachment issues.  Life Quest Girls Academy does not pretend to be, or try to be their parent, or nurturer.  Life Quest Girls Academy is a “black and white”, “cut and dry” “transactional” style of relationship for all students.  Our students are expected to give us an honest effort in following our Code of Conduct.  In return, Life Quest provides students with reward type natural consequences for both good and poor individual choices.  Life Quest does not operate a “Level System” or punitive “Behavior mod” type of consequences.  Students learn quickly that they must earn all special privileges and allowances given to them at Life Quest Girls Academy.  There are no “free lunches” so to speak and students learn the natural consequences of their daily choices.  Students succeed at Life Quest when they understand and accept that we are not their parents and we are not their nurturers.  We still defer to their parents for many privileges available to all students.  We help students understand the importance of developing a healthy, functional relationship with their parents, who have a long term relationship potential for the rest of their lives and that it is in their best interest to work in a respectful manner with their parents.       

Strategies for Adoptive Parents

Adoptive parents play a crucial role in the support of children with RAD. There are several strategies that parents can implement to help their child feel secure and loved.

  • Consistent routines and clear expectations to provide stability.

  • Positive reinforcement and praise to encourage desired behaviors.

Patience and understanding are key. It is important for parents to remain calm and supportive, even when faced with challenging behaviors. Life Quest Girls Academy offers resources and guidance to help parents support their child's emotional and psychological growth.

Success Stories: Overcoming RAD

While RAD can present significant challenges, many families have successfully navigated these obstacles with the right support and interventions. At Life Quest Girls Academy, we have witnessed numerous success stories where children and their families have thrived despite the initial difficulties.

  • Children who once struggled with attachment issues have developed strong, loving bonds with their adoptive families.

  • Families have reported significant improvements in their child's behavior and emotional well-being.

These success stories highlight the importance of persistence, professional support, and a well thought out and calculated nurturing environment involving the parents and a healthy distance that works well and makes sense for the entire family. These stories also serve as a testament to the transformative power of adoption and the resilience of the human spirit when the correct environment exists.

Life Quest Girls Academy: Your Partner in Adoption

Life Quest Girls Academy is committed to supporting families throughout the adoption process. We understand the unique challenges of adopting older children and are here to provide a structured, accountable environment to help them thrive.

  • A supportive educational setting tailored to the needs of girls with RAD.

  • Resources and guidance for adoptive parents to build effective parenting skills.

Our mission is to help families heal by providing short and long-term placement in a safe, structured environment with RAD-specific trained and knowledgeable staff.  Visit Life Quest Girls Academy to learn more about our programs and how we can assist you in your adoption journey.


  1. What is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)?

    • RAD is a condition where children have difficulty forming healthy emotional attachments due to early life experiences such as neglect or trauma.

  2. How can I tell if my adopted child has RAD?

    • Look for signs such as difficulty showing affection, avoidance of physical contact, and unexplained anger or sadness. A professional evaluation is necessary for a proper diagnosis.

  3. What treatments are available for RAD?

    • Treatment options include family therapy and out of home placement. It is recommended to seek help from qualified mental health professionals throughout this journey.

  4. Can children with RAD recover fully?

    • With early intervention, consistent therapy, and a supportive environment, many children with RAD can develop healthy relationships and improve their emotional well-being.  Some severe cases may never see improvements (17%)

  5. How does Life Quest Girls Academy support families with adopted children?

    • Life Quest Girls Academy provides a safe, structured, accountable environment for girls with RAD, offering resources and guidance to support their academic development, emotional growth, and life skill development.

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