boys circling up at camp to resolve problems

Reactive Attachment Disorder and Camp

Many children adopted from foreign countries suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD). “RAD is a condition in which a child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregiver,” a mother explains. “It may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met.”

young man on balcony

Children with RAD thrive on chaos and upheaval. “Our family life was out of control,” one mother of a boy with RAD recalls. “We couldn’t take him out in public. The more we showed him affection, the more he would push us away. He was tearing our family apart!”

Radical Attachment Disorder (more commonly referred to as Reactive Attachment Disorder) is a disorder that is found in children or young adults who have not formed strong attachment with their primary caregiver or a young adult who had been neglected in their younger years by their primary caregiver. There are two primary types of reactive attachment disorder: inhibited and disinhibited. These two types are typically manifested with different types of behavior. Inhibited Radical Attachment Disorder is typically characterized by behaviors that are detached or unresponsive, while Dis-inhibited Radical Disorder is characterized by inappropriately familiar behavior with others.  This disorder is not yet as well researched as some, and there is not yet a generally accepted response and treatment regimen.

Teens who deal with Radical Attachment Disorder (RAD) face inability to form proper relationships with others either by not allowing relationships or by forming inappropriate relationships. If Radical Attachment Disorder is not treated the teen may develop social, behavioral, and psychological issues later in their life. It is important that these teens are encouraged to form appropriate relationships with those around them.

from Best Therapeutic Boarding Schools, “About Radical Attachment Disorder”
sober young man

“Camp provides a space for a boy to deal with his attachment difficulties,” explains Gary Barnhart, program director. “We have the time at camp for him to share when he is struggling. His chiefs and group will stop everything to focus on the present distress. As he begins to open up, the others speak into his life in a caring and understanding way. Over time, his brain will start to reframe relationships as he learns to express what he is feeling and begins to trust others.”

“Everything we do at camp, we do together,” Daniel Hochstetler, executive director, said. “The constant interaction with his chief and the other campers fosters trust. As they solve problems, they are able to get below the surface of his acting out to see what is really bothering him. As they care and help each other, the boy becomes part of the solution – not just a problem. He begins to believe that he can be different.”

Camp helps Brandon deal with a difficult childhood

When Brandon camp to camp in 2003, he was a violent and angry boy. Adopted as a one year old, he lived with his adoptive father and stepmother after his parents separated. At age 9, his father died suddenly. He then went to live with his adoptive mother.

Feelings of abandonment and rejection overwhelmed his young heart. He began to act out by fighting, cursing, skipping school and partying. He attempted to stab his step mother, set their house on fire and ran away numerous times. After being suspended from school, his mother was at her wits end.

A social worker informed them of Fair Play and they got in contact with a family worker. After visiting camp, he knew that was the place for him. He loved the outdoors and recognized that something had to change before ending up in jail.

At camp he learned how to express grief in a totally different manner rather than acting out. Together as a group, he with the other campers learned how to help each other express their feelings in a productive way. “The more I attempted to help others with their problems,” Brendon recalls, “the more I experience healing for myself. I learned to think about others more than myself. We suffered together as a group.”

One of the first things we learned at camp was the importance of solving problems. “We would circle up, and talk about the problem until it was solved. We learned to not run from our problems but to face them head-on. These problem solving skills helped to prepare us for our future.”

Chief Kevin remembers that Brandon arrived at camp soon after he started as chief. “As Brandon and I were both new at this camp thing, we bonded pretty quickly,” he recalls. “I remember many nights, when after the group was in bed, that we would talk. I would sit on his footlocker as he shared about the difficult things in his life.”

“Brandon allowed me and camp staff to walk his journey with him.” Kevin continues. “It was a joy to watch as he learned how to play guitar, solve problems, work together with his group and summit to authority. Obviously there were many difficult times, but he continued to grow into a man. He became a close friend with my wife Sheree and I and has stayed in touch over the years.”

“Camp is the first place I really felt accepted and loved,” Brandon remarks. “Every night the Chiefs would tuck us in and tell us they loved us – no matter how bad we had been that day. We were a rough group, but they stuck with us. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about camp. I still stay in regular contact with some of the other guys. Fair Play is located in a beautiful area but it’s the people that make camp – not the land!”

Camp helped Brandon to be a father to his son and step daughter. He is a skilled carpenter and construction worker. “Thank you for helping me to get my life on track!” Brandon concludes. “If it had not been for Fair Play, I would either be in jail or dead!”

Hawkins Family

Serving Adoptive Families at Camp

“We Thought Love Would Be Enough!”

These families who adopted from foreign countries were often unprepared for the effects of their son’s previous experiences. Many boys came from orphanages where they experienced neglect. This can cause negative behaviors later in life. Other boys experienced abandonment and loss from their biological families. They frequently struggle to build relationships and trust with their adoptive families. The result is sometimes disarray and turmoil in the family.

“We did so much for our son; why doesn’t he appreciate it?” is a question that many of these parents ask themselves.

For years they did everything possible for their son. But their options were running out. They had no place to turn. They didn’t know what to do next. They were desperate.

Evan

Evan had experienced a lot of severe neglect in a Ukrainian orphanage. “He was severely underweight when we got him,” his mother Christine remembers. “I thought that we would just love on him, and that would be all he needed.”

“Because he has no memory of that trauma and wasn’t verbal, he was not able to process it,” she goes on. “He was not able to talk about it in therapy. He can’t recall it, but it’s there.”

Things really got bad with Evan when puberty hit. He was bullying other kids and getting behind academically.

Once, after a violent incident, Christine told him that they knew he didn’t want to be this way. They were going to pray for an answer. He responded, “There’s nothing to pray about. God can’t fix me.” He had given up on himself.

Bradley

Many children adopted from foreign countries suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD). Bradley was one of them. “RAD is a condition in which a child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregiver,” explained his mother Sharon. “It may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met.”

Children with RAD thrive on chaos and upheaval. “Our family life was out of control,” she recalls. “We couldn’t take him out in public. The more we showed him affection, the more he would push us away. He was tearing our family apart!”

 “Unless you live with a child with RAD, you have no idea what it’s like,” his father Scott relates. “Our closest friends and family members would comment on our supposed lack of parenting skills. We felt very alone!”

Hudson

“In the orphanages, there aren’t enough caretakers for all the children,” Hudson’s mother Tamela explains. “So they don’t get a lot of one-on-one attention. They don’t get held and rocked. They do the best they can with the allocated resources.”

Like many children from these orphanages, Hudson had developmental delays in many areas. He responded well to much of the therapy, but there were still behavior issues. He was finally diagnosed with RAD. “That rocked our world,” Tamela remembers. “We knew that it was going to be a sustained effort for the rest of our lives.”

“As time passed, it continued to get worse,” she continues. “When he tried to hurt another child at basketball camp, we knew that we had to do something.”

Josh

Josh was not in an orphanage, but he suffered early loss when his mother and twin brother died soon after he was born. In that culture, having twins was a curse. Since Josh was alone, he would have been treated as an outcast. He was rescued by missionaries and eventually adopted by Rodney and Gina.

When Josh turned seven, the hurts and feelings started to surface. He would keep all his feelings inside and refuse to talk about them. Then something would happen and he would erupt in fits of rage. They were at loss with how to deal with his issues.

He would take out his anger on Gina—hitting and throwing things at her. But they could not get him to talk about what was bothering him. Then he started hitting and disrespecting other people.

No Place to Turn

Their situations felt hopeless. These families tried many therapies and various methods to get help. Nothing seemed to work. They didn’t know what else to do. “Our son had every test known to man done on him,” one father said. “We were told that there was nothing they could do for him.”

“One of the things about RAD is that the number of people you can rely on to help gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller,” another father said.

“Since he was adopted from another country, we had no help from the Department of Social Services,” a father explains. “We were on our own. We didn’t know where to turn.”

In their desperation, these families searched far and wide for a solution. They often learned about camp from other families, or a professional recommended it. Many families were surprised that camp felt they could help their son. “Our family worker said they could help us with our son,” one mother said, “but… I didn’t believe him.”

Change Begins

 “Camp provided the time and attention for our son that we couldn’t,” a father observes. “They could take the time to stop everything and deal with his issues. If he acted out, the whole group would circle up and deal with the problem at hand. You just can’t do that in a family environment. That’s the sort of thing that has brought change.”

“Camp provides a space for a boy to deal with his attachment difficulties,” explains Gary Barnhart, program director. “We have the time at camp for him to share when he is struggling. His chiefs and group will stop everything to focus on the present distress. As he begins to open up, the others speak into his life in a caring and understanding way. Over time, his brain will start to reframe relationships as he learns to express what he is feeling and begins to trust others.”

“Everything we do at camp, we do together,” Daniel Hochstetler, executive director, said. “The constant interaction with his chief and the other campers fosters trust. As they solve problems, they are able to get below the surface of his acting out to see what is really bothering him. As they care and help each other, the boy becomes part of the solution – not just a problem. He begins to believe that he can be different.”

Families often notice change within a few months at camp. For many boys, it’s learning to react to problems in a more productive manner. “On one home visit, Josh was having a bad attitude,” his father explained. “When asked what was going on, instead of getting angry like before, he admitted it and explained why and changed his attitude.”

“His first home visit was amazing,” another mother remarked. “He was different, especially with me. To have him look at me and say ‘yes ma’am’ – that was priceless. Six weeks at camp accomplished more than all the other things we have done throughout the years.”

“You always know that camp has your back,” comments Scott. “You always know that they are only looking out for the best for your child. You can be open and honest with the staff because you know they understand your situation. They made us feel safe.”

Life Goes On

 “The past few years have been a whole lot easier,” Warren explains. “It’s not been a cake walk, but we now have the tools to work through our problems. I don’t where he would be without camp. He was headed for some type of incarceration.”

“Camp helped his decision making,” Christine said. “He now has the wherewithal to make a good decision. Now it is up to him. When he makes a bad decision, he can process what he has done, where it can lead, and what he can do about it.”

Josh has been home a few months. He still has things to work through and it has not always been easy. “He still gets angry, but it’s what he does with it that has changed,” Rodney said. “When issues surface, he’s quick to say ‘That’s not right, lets change this.'”

“Camp takes something from unmanageable chaos to manageable chaos.” A father explains. “It’s still hard, but he doesn’t end up with the same outbursts. We thought we could bring these boys into our home and change them with a lot of love. But the hurts and scars were so deep that we realized that we needed help.”

“When a boy graduates and goes home, the family is given a renewed hope that things can be better,” Daniel said. “With all that they have been through, many families quit believing that they can be a healthy family. The camp experience renews their passion. It gives them the energy, courage and hope to move on. Camp doesn’t fix the boy. We help them understand what the problems are which gives them the confidence and tools to work through them.”

The Hawkins family visit with a family worker

Working with a RAD child after graduating

Prepared for Success

After graduating, Bradley has been a different person. He is doing well in school, making friends and even joined the Boy Scouts. But it hasn’t been perfect. As we were preparing to conduct the interview for this article, Scott almost canceled it due to some problems they were having with Bradley. The difference now is that they have the tools to work through problems.

Like at camp, the family has a pow-wow every evening where they discuss the day – what went well and what could have gone better. They also discuss what will be happening the next day. “Camp is still an accountability partner for Bradley,” Scott explains. “We ask, what would the chief say? How would your group respond to this behavior? We are constantly using the principles that we learned from camp to solve problems.”

For older brother Taylor, it’s like having a new brother. “Now when he makes a bad decision, he stops to think about it,” he observes. “We are able to have deep conversations as brothers about meaningful things. God definitely used Fair Play to change Bradley!”

“We are still on a journey. Every day we are committed to continued growth,” Scott comments. “Camp was a God-send. We have no idea where we would be without it. There is not a better place in the world where we could have sent Bradley for help! There is not a better support system for families.”

Group therapy is an important component of helping kids diagnosed with RAD.

Treating Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) at Fair Play

Then one day, help came in an unexpected way. At work, Scott was sharing their struggles with a coworker who suggested giving Fair Play Camp School a call. What did they have to lose? They got in contact with a family worker, Phil Hollinger.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” they recall. “Bradley was capable of being on his best behavior to control a situation. Taylor was afraid that he would be able to deceive Phil into thinking that everything was okay. We quickly saw that Phil could see through the smokescreen and understood what Bradley was trying to do.”

The Hawkins decided to give camp a try and Bradley agreed to go. In the fall of 2013, he joined the Pioneers. Soon after arriving, the group left for a five-day hiking trip. “That was the hardest thing I ever did physically,” Bradley recalls. “It showed me how out of shape I was.”

Bradley would experience many more difficult lessons in camp. “I thought it would be easier than it was,” he recalls.” He began to learn how to be open and honest, trust other people and accept responsibility for his actions. It was a difficult struggle at times and he reacted badly in many situations. For Bradley, hard physical work was very therapeutic.

In the next post: Going back home.

Adoption and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD)

When Scott and Sharon Hawkins traveled to the Ukraine in October 2001, they were planning to adopt a little baby girl. Upon their arrival, they learned that the girl had already been placed and they then felt God leading them to adopt Bradley, a 15-month old baby that had been abandoned by his mother at the orphanage. After their older son Taylor was born, they were unable to have more children. They were excited about adopting a younger brother for Taylor and providing a better life for Bradley. They soon found out that they were not prepared for what was coming next.

Chaos and Upheaval

At age 3, Bradley was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (RAD), a condition in which a child doesn’t establish healthy attachments with parents or caregivers. RAD may develop if the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met. Children with RAD thrive on chaos and upheaval. “Our family life was out of control,” Sharon recalls. “We couldn’t go out to eat, attend special church functions or do something as simple as visiting our friends. We couldn’t even go on vacation. Bradley would act out at these events and make it uncomfortable for everyone. Even at home, he would try to control and manipulate through misbehavior and turmoil. The more that we would show him affection, the more he would push us away. He was tearing our family apart!”

“Unless you live with a child with RAD, you have no idea what it’s like,” Scott relates. “Even our closest friends and family members would comment on our supposed lack of parenting skills. People can be very judgmental. We felt very alone!”

Their situation felt hopeless. They tried numerous therapies and various methods to get help. Nothing seemed to work. They didn’t know what else to do.

In our next post, we will look at how their journey at Fair Play Camp School gave them the tools they needed to help their son.