Misperceptions of reactive attachment disorder persist: Poor methods and unsupported conclusions

Res Dev Disabil. 2018 Jun:77:24-29. doi: 10.1016/j.ridd.2018.03.012. Epub 2018 Apr 5.


Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is an often discussed, but misunderstood, diagnostic presentation. A growing body of well-designed prospective studies is providing a wealth of information about the condition; however, misconceptions of RAD abound in both clinical and research arenas. As such, it can be difficult for reviewers to critically evaluate papers pertaining to RAD that are submitted to academic journals and even more difficult for practicing clinicians operating under the time constraints of community-based practice. Papers continue to appear that promote RAD as a form of conduct disorder (CD) or callous/unemotional (CU) presentation among maltreated children, although this conceptualization is directly at odds with the diagnostic criteria found in the DSM-5 and ICD-10 as well as a significant body of well-conducted research. Studies attempting to promote this understanding of RAD typically suffer from significant and multiple methodological flaws. This paper reviews these concerns and provides 5 questions that must be sufficiently answered when evaluating a paper purportedly examining RAD. A recently published paper promoting the CD/CU-conceptualization of RAD is critiqued as an exemplar of applying these 5 questions.

Keywords: Attachment; Disinhibited social engagement disorder; Reactive attachment disorder.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Conduct Disorder / classification
  • Conduct Disorder / psychology
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Object Attachment
  • Peer Review, Research / standards
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder / classification
  • Reactive Attachment Disorder / psychology*
  • Social Behavior*