“He killed one of our pets and beat our other animals”, said the mother who adopted a sociopathic child. “At the point that he threatened my life and our daughters life and told us how he was going to kill us, I couldn’t do it anymore”.
Mich tells her story on my radio show of how she and her husband adopted a 4-year-old boy who from the start displayed bizarre behaviors, and how eventually his behavior became “very scary and violent”.
While we mostly think of sociopaths as being adults, sociopathic behavior in children does occur and is a result of antisocial personality disorders.
Let’s start with some definitions.
The National Institute of Mental Health provides this definition:
Antisocial personality disorder is defined by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual on Mental Disorders, fourth edition (DSM-IV) as “…a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood.” People with antisocial personality disorder may disregard social norms and laws, repeatedly lie, place others at risk for their own benefit, and demonstrate a profound lack of remorse. It is sometimes referred to as sociopathic personality disorder, or sociopathy.
According to Mayoclinic.org:
Antisocial personality disorder symptoms may begin in childhood and are fully evident for most people during their 20s and 30s.
Children at risk exhibit the following risk factors:
• Conflict with peers, family members and authority figures
• Cruelty to people and animals
• Fire starting and vandalism
• Use of weapons
• Sexual assault
• Repeated lying
• Problem behaviors in school and poor academic performance
• Gang involvement
• Running away from home
Although the precise cause of antisocial personality disorder isn’t known, certain factors seem to increase the risk of developing or triggering it, including:
• Diagnosis of childhood conduct disorder
• Family history of antisocial personality disorder or other personality disorders or mental illness
• Being subjected to verbal, physical or sexual abuse during childhood
• Unstable or chaotic family life during childhood
• Loss of parents through traumatic divorce during childhood
• History of substance abuse in parents or other family members
Personality disorders are thought to be caused by a combination of these genetic and environmental influences. Some people may have genes that make them vulnerable to developing antisocial personality disorder — and life situations may trigger its development.
There may be a link between an early lack of empathy — understanding the perspectives and problems of others, including other children — and later onset of antisocial personality disorder. Identifying these personality problems early may help improve long-term outcomes.
There’s no sure way to prevent antisocial personality disorder from developing in those at risk. Early, effective and appropriate discipline, lessons in behavioral skills, family therapy, and psychotherapy may help reduce the chance that at-risk children go on to become adults with antisocial personality disorder.
Listen this Saturday, November 8 from 6-7:30 am on 1150 KSAL, to my caller Mich who tells her story of the son she adopted whose behavior became “very scary and violent”. In addition to hearing this mother’s story, listen for more on the biology of sociopathy, and the signs, causes and treatment for childhood sociopathy.
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