Retired from a career in nursing and counseling, Ryan lives in Grand Island, Neb., where she has formed The Jane E. Ryan Institute for Family Health, a nonprofit organization designed to support stressed families and help heal family relationships.
Ryan was in Hagerstown recently to participate in a conference on reactive attachment disorder held at Hagerstown Community College.
The two-day conference attracted about 200 foster/adoptive parents, people from the medical community and educators.
Ryan said the turnout of social workers and therapists made her hopeful that the disorder finally might be getting the attention it deserves.
"Reactive attachment disorder was identified in the 1940s, yet a great deal of confusion still surrounds it," Ryan said. "It is either ignored or flat-out denied. There aren't enough therapists who can identify the disorder or treat it. It's heartbreaking."
Ryan said RAD is typical among children who are in foster care or who have been adopted.
"You don't go into foster care because mom sings too loud in the choir," she said. "You go into foster care because of awful experiences."
And the repercussions of those experiences — abuse or a lack of bonding, love or attention — eventually manifest themselves, she said.
Ryan said RAD is an increasing problem around the world.
"Maybe it's the changes in society, maybe it's changes in family situations or an increase in drug and alcohol use. But in some states, 80,000 children are in foster care and have been taken out of their biological homes," she said. The number of children with RAD could skyrocket.
Ryan said research has shown that an estimated 95 percent of jails and prisons are filled with grown-up versions of children with RAD. They never were diagnosed or treated and became dangerous.
But Ryan believes there is hope.
"I'm currently working with two beautiful therapists who are trying to educate the world about RAD," she said. "I think that slowly, social workers and therapists are starting to understand that it's a topic that's enormously important to address."
More information about reactive attachment disorder, Jane Ryan and the movie "The Boarder" can be found at www.theboardermovie.com.