Today’s Isolated Kids = Tomorrow’s Killers?

by Diane Dimond on February 8, 2010

Troubled Children Can Turn Criminal

Troubled Children Can Turn Criminal

E very human being needs to feel connected – attached – to other human beings around them. It’s an innate craving we all have and cannot fight. The hunger for attachment begins with infants who bond with their mother’s soothing voices, tender caresses and nurturing care. It’s through this kind of attention the child comes to know the feelings of being safe and protected. The quality of the early bonds children form with adults in their world will affect every relationship they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

Sadly, some children never get the love they need to grow into healthy, empathetic, trusting people. As they grow they form their own protective shield to keep out the rest of the world. They have no trust in others and their behavior often turns self-destructive and even criminal.

What ails this unfortunate group now has a name: Reactive Attachment Disorder. It’s a fairly new addition to the American Psychiatric Association’s book that lists every recognized psychiatric disorder known to man – The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The professionals say RAD, as it’s called, this isn’t just a trendy diagnosis du jour. They’ve discovered that young

RAD Kids Often Wind Up in Jail

Help RAD Kids Now - Or Jail Them Later

children who fail to form meaningful bonds, those who display early aggression and anti-social behaviors, often grow up to be sociopaths and turn to lives of crime.

In other words, RAD kids are the potential criminals of tomorrow. If we would only dedicate time and money to serve the needs of these children today we might all be spared their wrath, their potentially deadly deeds, in the future.

“If you see a serial killer chances are very strong they were a RAD kid,” says Jay Pullen, Executive Director of The Attachment Healing Center in Albuquerque. He mentions convicted Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh as likely being a RAD sufferer. I mention serial killer and cannibal, Jeffery Dahmer.

Pullen says it’s fairly easy to diagnose RAD children as they often display a wide range of similar behaviors: setting fires, making violent threats, smearing feces, killing animals or stealing food as a way to combat their early memories of being left hungry. All these behaviors are designed to repel other people so they can more comfortably retreat into their solitary shell.

There is Treatment

There is Treatment

Director Pullen is quick to say RAD is not a life-time curse, there are successful ways to treat these kids. All it takes is time, money and the determination to help.

States from New Mexico to Missouri, from California to New York are desperately searching for ways to lessen the plight of neglected children. The motivation perfectly captured in this quote from former Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz of Minnesota’s Supreme Court, “the difference between that poor child and a felon, is about eight years.”

There may be no other time in history when so many children are separated, ignored or neglected by the very people who are supposed to love them the most. According to the Children’s Defense Fund record numbers of kids are shuffled between foster homes these days or are reported to be victims of emotional and sexual abuse. If a parent is depressed or angry or addicted it’s likely their children aren’t getting the nurturing they need.

You may think you’re not affected by Reactive Attachment Disorder but Pullen says nothing could be further from the truth. Your tax dollars go to deal with RAD kids once they enter the justice or adoption system. When you see graffiti on the side of a building, a neighbor’s home damaged by an arson fire or when your child’s classroom is repeatedly disrupted by the disordered child, Reactive Attachment Disorder does affect you and yours.

Pioneering in-house treatments have been devised to help willing parents learn the most effective way to deal with

For more info visit

For more info visit

these self-sabotaging children. One mother of a RAD child had to learn to ignore her daughter’s chilling notes. One the girl taped to the foot of her bed read, “I’m going to slash your throat with a butcher knife.” Instead of reacting negatively to that as she tucked in the child the mother learned to say instead, “Yes, I see that. Now, hop into bed we have to get you off to school in the morning.” That kind of statement acknowledges the youngster’s message but reinforces trust by presenting the idea that parent and child are part of a team.

The experts on RAD say it all comes down to neurologically re-wiring these kids to break their bad behavior cycles. In cases where parents are at the crux of the problem RAD therapists recommend removing the children to a more nurturing environment. Foster and adoptive parents are often these kids best hope.

We ignore these troubled children at our own peril. If we don’t help them assimilate now they could come back to grab our attention in much more serious and dangerous ways.


Diane February 9, 2010 at 9:58 am

ABQ Journal reader Paul Gilon writes:

“For the next few months the Albuquerque Museum of Tolerance is presenting Anne Frank’s diary. As a survivor of the holocaust I have been asked to give several presentations of what it was like to be a hidden child during the war.

I read your article with great interest and would appreciate it if you would allow me to make copies and distribute them to the students?

I was touched by your column because I spent my childhood in hiding from the Nazis during WWII and missed the tender motherly care and security you describe. In growing up I was lucky that I was able to channel my anger on intellectual endeavors rather than on (criminal) revenge. So many members of our societ seem to be more concerned with life-before-birth than after; you column suggests that we need to pay more attention to the latter or pay the consequences.

Paul Gilon, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus

Diane February 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

Professor Gilon,
I’m humbled and honored that you would want to distribute my work during your presentation.
And I’m so impressed at what you’ve done with your life since your neglected childhood. I think you and I share the idea that dealing with troubled CHILDREN is a much wiser thing to do than to wait to deal with criminal ADULTS.
With all respect,

Suzanne February 9, 2010 at 11:43 am

I am the adoptive parent of a child diagnosed with RAD. It is is a daily battle to find new ways to help her overcome her past abuse and neglect. The key to helping my daughter has been to gain insight into what drives her behaviors, and intervene early and often. Though chronologically she is ten years old, her emotional age is that of someone three or four years of age (and that represents tremendous progress).

I’ve also fostered other children diagnosed with RAD whose behaviors were such that they could not be safe in a home environment and were moved to inpatient psychiatric facilities.

The hardest part for me is trying to educate other adults (generally school staff) about RAD, what it means, about triangulation and manipulation, and how their interventions may be doing more harm than good.

The earlier these kids get intervention (therapy, and lots of it, in as many different modalities as possible such as attachment, trauma, psychiatric and behavioral) the better the chances of rewiring their thought processes so that they can move forward. It takes a lot to help them, and so very little to further damage them.

The rewards for getting it right are greater than one can imagine.

Diane February 9, 2010 at 11:51 am

Suzanne: I’m so deeply appreciative of you taking the time to write from this first-person perspective. Your child is one lucky girl! All those
RAD kids you’ve come in contact are. I hope some day they full realize that. ~ DD

Diane February 10, 2010 at 2:06 am

ABQ Journal Reader Diana Lamb writes:

“Regarding your article about RAD children in Saturday’s Albuquerque Journal, I was dismayed that you ignored an entire segment of the RAD population: those kids that have been adopted, in particular, internationally adopted.

As more and more people are adopting children from foreign countries, research is indicating that there is a certain percentage of those kids afflicted with RAD. It has nothing to do with the care received from the adoptive parents. Rather, when there is a change in the primary caregiver between birth and 3 years of age, some children’s brains are not able to make the transition, even when the child moves from a good caregiver (such as a foster parent) to another good caregiver (such as an adoptive parent).

As the parent of two adopted children from Guatemala, I have one child with RAD who is receiving treatment at a long-term residential center. I take great offense that your article repeatedly stated that RAD children have been neglected and/or abused. I can assure you that my children entered my home and were never neglected nor abused.

When I first started reading your article I was hopeful that finally the public was going to be educated about RAD. Most people have never heard of it and know nothing about it. It has been my experience that there are parents of RAD children (not unlike myself) who for years have had no idea what is wrong with their child. They have gone from school counselors to psychologists to social workers to psychiatrists and anyone inbetween trying to find someone who can tell them what is wrong with their child and what to do about it. The general public (including many health professionals) are simply not knowledgeable on this disorder.

Your article would certainly have been a great way to start educating the public. You are correct that oftentimes children with RAD, who are left untreated, do travel down the road of crime and violence. But rather than offering suggestions about how “time and money” can be spent to help RAD children, or how educators can more easily recognize it in their classroom and suggest resources to parents, your article did nothing but make people fearful of all RAD kids.

Perhaps you could write a follow-up article about the ways people can help? Or perhaps highlight some success stories about kids who have received proper treatment and are doing well?”

Diane February 10, 2010 at 2:13 am

My Dear Ms. Lamb:

First, may I express my admiration for your decision to become an adoptive parent.
But the very fact that there is a child who is up for adoption indicates to me that there has been some sort of abuse – be it physical, emotional or whatever.

THAT is what I was referring to….

I never said it was the ADOPTIVE or FOSTER PARENT who was abusing these RAD children. In fact I clearly wrote that removing these children from their family home (and placing them with adoptive or foster parents) might be the best thing that ever happened to these neglected kids.

I could have written FIVE columns worth on this topic. But I have an 800 word limit. I daresay my writing about RAD shed light to countless people who otherwise had never heard of RAD kids.

That I didn’t mention internationally adopted RAD kids shouldn’t take away from the enlightenment I hope I gave to many.

Good luck in your endeavors -DD

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Facebook Friend Danielle Richardson writes:

“Great story Diane. My heart just hurts so much for children that are not loved. Whose parents do not just hug them or hold them. I couldn’t get enough of my 3 daughters when they were little. I wanted to hold them all the time. It’s hard for me to fathom how parents can treat their children so at a distance. Very sad.”

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:24 pm

Facebook Friend Sean Bagley writes:

” I’m convinced we’re raising an army of sociopaths, whether they’re isolated or not.”

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Facebook Friend Lisa Penna Zobel writes:

“This is why I tell– and show– my two boys how much I love them EVERY day!”

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:27 pm

Facebook Friend Wendy Walsh writes:

” Diane, Soooo well said! And attachment injuries affect our love lives more than anything.

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Facebook Friend Jeannine Vegh writes:

” Diane, RAD is a serious and sometimes misdiagnosed disorder.This happens whenever a new dx comes down the path. Your article is important though it feels like you are blaming the child. Generally in a psychological article it is important to start with the etiology and then go into the concept, future, and tx. RAD is present in a [probable] large number of foster children. It has been noted in children coming from the Romanian orphanage. This is not something that you would necessarily find in two parent intact families or even single parents. I wouldn’t want children to be blamed by their families when their disorder could be attributed to something else.”

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:39 pm


This is not a “Psychological article.” I write weekly columns about crime and justice. And I try very hard to bring new information to my readers about issues they may never have heard about.

If you knew my work you’d know the last thing I’d do is blame a child for a psychological disorder.

Diane February 10, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Facebook Friend Danielle Richardson writes.
The sad thing is- alot of society think that these kids are from poor, uneducated families. This is not the case. Many criminals- violent and otherwise come from wealthy, educated families- but, the parents only gave them monetory love. They bought them everything they thought the child needed. Unfortunately, this is not what our children need. The… See More needs are simple really- unconditional love, acceptance, support, guidance, and constant communication. We live in a world of “gotta have it,” so we sacrifice our time so we can have more money–for what? To buy things we never use-because we have to make money to buy more things. It is a never ending cycle- and everyone suffers- especially our future generation.”

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