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Abusive parenting techniques to treat reactive attachment disorder

November 8, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
What do parenting methods for reactive attachment disorder and child abuse have in common? More than we'd probably like to think.

The latest horror story about abuse of an adopted child comes out of Mankato, Minn. According to an Associated Press story, last month a couple named Mona and Russell Hauer took their adopted 8-year-old son to a clinic, claiming he had an eating disorder and had been throwing up blood. The boy was the size of a 4-year-old, had a distended stomach and classic signs of malnutrition, according to news reports.

Further investigation by authorities turned up allegations that the couple starved the child, fed him a liquid diet, put an alarm on his bedroom door so he couldn't sneak out and steal food, made him urinate in a bucket that he had to clean out himself every morning and made one of his siblings hose him off in the yard, beat him and his siblings with a broomstick handle and had ignored recommendations from adoption professionals that the child receive intense psychotherapy after the adoption for the trauma he experienced in early childhood.

The boy reportedly said he got so hungry he ate food out of the compost heap and threw up his food because he wanted the taste of food in his mouth and didn't know when he 'd get to eat again. The Hauers home school the children and rarely go to a doctor because they practice "holistic medicine." The liquid diet was apparently the Hauers' misinterpretation of advice from a chiropractor who hoped liquids might help the boy eventually eat a more regular diet.

No one has said it yet, but I would be willing to bet that the Hauers' defense attorney will claim this little boy is suffering from reactive attachment disorder, which is a rare condition that makes a child resistant to attaching to others because of abuse or trauma in infancy and toddlerhood. Kids with RAD are said to exhibit pretty difficult behavior problems that can be a challenge for an adoptive family and usually requires therapy with a specialist. However, some of the parenting methods recommended for RAD by pseudotherapists on the Internet amount to torture.

One of the giveaways for me that the Hauers may have been using some of these abusive parenting techniques to treat RAD was Mona Hauer's claim that the boy was "attempting to be in control of the home and that (he) had controlled the home for some time" and Russell Hauer's claim that the boy "had won or gotten his way" by being hospitalized. One common claim is that a RAD child has a pathological need to control his environment and, if he's to be cured, should never be allowed to get his way in anything. Some of these sites even claim that a child with RAD will use food or his bodily functions to exercise control over the family. Some of these sites also advise people not to use therapists who want to see the child alone because the child will lie and manipulate the therapist.

I obviously don't know if this was the case with the Hauers, but this is the latest of several reports of horrific abuse by adoptive parents who adopted older children with traumatic backgrounds. In some of the cases, the parents were alleged to have withheld food or put alarms on a child's door or to have made them use buckets instead of toilets.

Of course most adoptive parents love their children and raise them well and most children who have been adopted are in good homes. Hopefully the state will exercise more care in choosing new, loving adoptive parents for the Hauer children. But I also hope that adoption agencies are paying note to these cases and will do a better job of screening parents that are likely to resort to these tactics to handle a traumatized child who is suddenly expected to call a couple of strangers Mommy and Daddy.

More information about some of the abusive treatment methods recommended by pseudoscientists for RAD can be found at (


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