What Lee Says To Adoptive Parents

Dear Adoptive Parents,

My name is Lee and I am the mother of two children.One of them, our youngest, my daughter, was adopted from Russia.It was my dream to adopt since the young age of 10.It took a lot of persuading to get my husband to agree, but finally in 2005 when we brought home 13 month old Elena; my dream was a reality.She was so young that nothing could possible go wrong – or be wrong with her.Or so we thought…

My dreams were shattered within days of bringing Elena home.  I knew there was something wrong with her, but I just didn’t know what.  I felt such guilt for not having a bond with her.  I tried so hard, but she had absolutely no interest in bonding with me.  She would indiscriminately go with any stranger, hold their hand, site on their lap, etc… as much if not more than wanting to do those things with me.  I felt so betrayed.  I wanted so much to love her and have that love returned.

At the age of 5, our daughter was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD).  All of the signs were there and we just didn’t see or understand them all that time.  The tipping point for us was when she tortured and nearly killed a small kitten and showed absolutely no remorse.

I believe that everything happens for a reason.  My dream was not fulfilled to have a lovable little girl for a daughter.  But, God had other plans.  Elena has been in treatment for over a year now (mostly out of our home).  She was a threat to our animals and our family (physical and emotional) and we were unable to help her.  Her ability to empathize was non-existent.  She was basically a miniature sociopath.

I could go on and on about horror stories that RAD has caused for us.  But, the real victim is our daughter Elena.  If only we had known before we got her what we needed to do in order to cure/prevent RAD, things would be much different today.

Because of our experiences, we are on a quest to make sure that other families don’t go through what we have gone through.  We want little ones to learn to love/bond/empathize; that they spend time laughing and loving rather than manipulating and hurting themselves and others.

RAD is an expensive disorder to treat.  But it is much cheaper and easier to fix it while they are very young.  We have spent well over $50K on Elena’s therapy over the past year, and we still have a long way to go.  This could easily cause a family to be forced to either give up the child to social services or go broke trying to help them.

RAD can also easily cause problems within a marriage or even cause divorce.  RAD children are experts at triangulation – pitting one person against another all the while playing the victim.  They learn these ‘survival’ skills at shockingly young ages.  It took my husband years to finally see what was going on with our daughter and understand it.

It is very hard to find an expert in this field.  Most physicians don’t understand RAD.  And most psychiatrists and psychologists don’t have effective methods of treatment.  We have been lucky enough to work with the best for Elena.  Debbie Bobbit-Harris in Dumfries, VA has taken Elena into her home on a full-time basis and has helped transform her.  She has been our savior.

You might have heard about the lady that sent her son back to Russia, or of the countless mothers who have given up their adopted children to social services, foster care, or other places.  It’s easy to judge someone when you don’t understand their circumstances.  If you had ever lived with a child with full blown RAD, you would easily understand their actions.

You may be wondering how Elena is doing.  She is now 7 years old and smart beyond belief.  Speaking to her is like speaking to a 25 year old.  But I feel so sad for her.  She has lost all of her baby/toddler years to RAD.  She could not “take in” love.  She is 70% there though now.  She will be fine one day.  Her dream is to be a mommy, like me, she says.   To make that dream come true she has to be able to love.  I am proud of her and also so very sad that I could have prevented some of this by preventative measures.

Please do whatever you can do avoid all of this.  Hold that child to you 24/7 if possible.  Sleep with them.  Look at them.  Talk to them.  Don’t be like I was and think, “Well, I guess they are just independent.”  Babies are not supposed to be independent.  Make them dependent on you!

Good Luck to you.  God Bless.

Lee Santilli (Elena’s Mama)


Elena is now almost 13 years old.  Without Debbie, our life would have been much different at this point in our lives.  Elena is now 99% typical.  She is smart, beautiful and let me tell you something… she LOVES her Mama.  Our bond is unbreakable and very real.  I am so proud to say I have that “lovable daughter” I wanted to adopt.

If my daughter could be helped, any child can be helped.  She was severe.  I have the skills I need to keep my daughter healthy.  She is thriving and full of love and empathy.

Debbie has a gift from God to help these children.  You can’t get any better than her.


Lee (Mama)