Causes and Risk Factors of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Because reactive attachment disorder does not have a significant amount of research behind it as a result of its rarity, the causes and risk factors as to why children develop the disorder are undetermined. However, professionals in the field have hypothesized that there are a combination of factors that play a role in the development of RAD. These factors may include:

Genetic: Currently there has not been a specific genetic link identified as contributing to the onset of reactive attachment disorder. However, genetic influences have been shown to play a role in the development of other attachment disorders, so some professionals believe that a genetic component exists in the formation of RAD as well.

Physical: Studies have proven that emotional and physical interactions between infants and their mothers (or other caregivers) have a significant impact on how the brain develops. If children are denied those interactions, then an alteration in their brain development occurs, resulting in changes in how these children will perceive the world around them and how they will react as a result of those misperceptions.

Environmental: The most common belief among professionals in the field is that the onset of reactive attachment disorder is due primarily to the environment in which children grow up. When a child’s environment lacks the emotional and physical interaction necessary to develop feelings of trust and safety, he or she may grow up with dominant feelings of fear and apprehension. This may then cause him or her to avoid any circumstances in which he or she may develop any sense of attachment to others in the future.

Risk factors:

  • Suffering from extreme neglect or abuse
  • Being removed from a neglectful or abusive home
  • Living or growing up in an orphanage
  • Frequent changes in foster care living situations
  • Having a mother who suffers from postpartum depression and ignores the child’s emotional needs as a result