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How do students with RAD act?

Students with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) act differently in the classroom... How do students with RAD act? In this post, I'll be talking about the ambient type, which means "openly angry, defiant, destructive, dangerous, superficially charming, lacks empathy, delinquent acts. Most prevalent sub-type in mental health systems". (

Classrooms Signs and Symptoms

Initially, children with RAD are very charming. They may come up to your desk and ask great questions regarding the day's lesson plans. These students with RAD may ask you very intelligent questions and have a few polite, intelligent complements.

  • What will we be learning about today, Mrs. Smith?

  • Have you ever heard of.... (something related to the lesson)

  • I've researched a few things on this... My mom says I'm an expert!

  • Can I help you with anything?

  • I was just looking this up the other day. Have you seen the documentary on NatGeo? I've watched the whole series.

  • I know all about XYZ!

After the initially charming behaviors (during the 'honeymoon period'), the survival mode comes out. These may manifest in ways like disruptions of class, manipulation of the lesson due dates (if they even do their work), lying, hyperactivity, argumentation, stealing, and aggression. Let's look at each of the behaviors. AND KNOW THAT: These parents need support. Adoption is hard; therefore, please be supportive of these parents. Furthermore, RAD adoptions/fostering is unbelievable. Here is a post related to foster parenting with RAD:

Disruptions in Instruction

How do students with RAD act? Disruptions of the classroom are one of the main components of their strategy. These children like to be in control. Firstly, they enjoy being the center of attention in a negative way. Secondly, they want to control the classroom at your expense. Thirdly, RAD children will call you out on how "stupid" your assignment or activity is (as some children who are behind academically will do). But there is a difference. This will always be at the awe and amazement of the other classmates. Attention and control are the goals.

How do students with RAD act? Manipulative

Manipulation of the lesson due dates (if they even do their work) and other manipulation is very common. RAD kids can manipulate you, other children, and lunch line workers. They can explain that the food is so good and how the lunch lady is the best cook ever. If they are cute and sweet enough, they will get a larger helping of mashed potatoes. Manipulation can come in many ways. For example, many of these students will, during the honeymoon period, tell you things like you're a great teacher, your class is the best, this subject is their favorite., etc. That same child will tell the lunch lady that he did not eat yesterday because his parents did not feed him (see Lying).


How do students with RAD act? Arguing is constant and usually entails basic logic that the child does not understand or cannot process. For example, you ask the child about a book that is on the floor beside his desk right when it is time to read. He is saying he can't read because he doesn't have his book.

"Is this your book?"


"Well, it has your assigned number on it."

"It's not mine; I drew a picture on the cover of mine."

"Let me look at the book log."

"Yes, your book is number 14 according to my log in my grade book. That is your book."

"No, IT'S NOT!!!!! My book is number 15 and it has a picture on the front of it! WHY ARE YOU PICKING ON ME? WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS GETTING ON TO ME? YOU'RE THE WORST TEACHER EVER!"

AND ON AND ON AND ON..... This can go on no matter how much, to everyone else, it is obvious that the facts point to you being correct and the child being wrong. She will not give in. Consequently, she will blow up.

How do students with RAD act? Hyper

Often RAD will be disguised as ADHD. I thought my boy had ADHD from day one. The first day he came through the doors, he could not remain still for one minute. Except for that one time, he had a fever and almost needed to go to the ER; the fever passed. Often ADHD is the initial diagnosis; this may be because medical practitioners do not consider the history of adopted children. They were adopted, so how would we know any history on them and the situations beyond the current foster parents. Trauma is not taken into consideration often.

Lying / Stealing

You know the typical lies kids tell. Say every other parent is posting 'honor roll posts...." your kid says, "My report card didn't come out today? I don't know why?" Or the typical, "I forgot." Even the most common lies like "I did brush my teeth." You didn't give me the worksheet. I didn't have a pencil at my house. I left my bookbag on the bus (even though you know they get picked up by their mom each day). Lies....

These are not typical lies though. You could ask the RAD child, "Did you take a piece of gum (when the gum is gone and there was only one piece left on your desk)?" He would deny he had gum and swallow it. When there is, obviously, no reason to have lied because you could deduce that he took it.

Stealing is another form of control, and stealing from friends is often the case. Although adopted children often steal - especially food - this stealing is of no use. This is another control issue. It may be office supplies. They may steal pencils from classmates. Cough drops from a teacher's desk (then lie about where she got it). My son stole condiments from the school - ketchup packets - for example.


How do students with RAD act? Students may be overly emotional with teachers - especially when caring teachers are involved. The more a teacher tries to 'love' or influence the student, the more emotional and overreacting the student can become.

Aggressive and Emotional are some signs of the RAD child in the classroom

Triangulation with peers is huge with these children. This kid always wants all the sympathy and the attention. He will coax someone into a fight and then begin to cry when they react to them with a punch or shunning.

How do students with RAD act? Aggressive

Often these students will appear charming, but little by little, as the honeymoon wears off, will become aggressive and even resort to physical violence. Fighting is often a problem with the RAD child at school. Oddly enough, these fights begin with arguments that escalate. The RAD child will begin to argue a point, lie, or attempt to manipulate. When the other child becomes offensive, RAD will buck up more and then blame the other child for the fight. These children, in their mind, live in constant chaos and cannot enjoy a calm setting for very long. They do not have normal friendships.

Remember, these students are often in survival mode, so they are not interested in learning. Don't be surprised if they talk a talk but can't keep up academically. They may have learning disabilities and/or are behind due to foster care moves.

The RAD student is not always a happy camper - rarely, if ever, is he happy to be learning or doing difficult activities such as learning new material.
Increased foster care moves decreases the educational stability in foster children. -Kristen Adkins


Don't utilize typical discipline with these students. Later, I will address more information regarding strategies to use when you have a RAD child. I'm looking forward to writing this post.

For more information on general RAD and adoption/fostering a RAD child, check out this post to see what it is like for the parent....

Let me know if you are a teacher who has had a RAD kid or you have suspected RAD but no official diagnosis was given.

How did you focus on the child or did you avoid him or her? WAS THE CHILD IN SPECIAL EDUCATION OR HAVE MULTIPLE SERVICES? Lastly, how was the child different from typical behavior-disordered children?

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Impressing Minds is about creating value in the mind of a child through the foster parents. Imagine the mind of a child being made of play-doh, and you are about to make a permanent impression. What type of impression will you make? I will encourage you to make a soft, lasting, affirmative impression in their mind by giving tools to get started fostering, accomplishing a great foster care home, and serving the children in your care. I offer support to you and others fostering. An important element of Impressing Minds is the support that others have given to those in need.


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