So, your child is showing signs that have you worried. They lie with nothing to gain, show little to no empathy, and seem to ignore what is right and wrong. Perhaps it has even crossed your mind that your son or daughter might be a sociopath. If this worry is lingering in your mind, how do you know what steps to take?
The clinical term for someone with this mental health disorder is antisocial personality disorder or ASPD. According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic guide for psychology, the main symptoms of ASPD include:
- Violation of the physical or emotional rights of others
- Lack of stability in job and home life
- Irritability and aggression
- Lack of remorse
- Consistent irresponsibility
- Recklessness, impulsivity
- A childhood diagnosis of conduct disorder
The exact causes of ASPD have not yet been defined. However, there are signs that there may be a genetic link that predisposes a person to develop the disorder and that certain life circumstances may trigger its development. Some experts have found a possible link to an adaptation during brain development in utero.
Signs of Sociopathy in Children
As a parent, what behaviors should you be looking out for if you suspect your child might have ASPD?
These are 5 signs that your suspicion might be correct. Keep in mind that many children go through phases where they tell lies or act uncharacteristically. This doesn’t necessarily make them sociopaths. But, if you are seeing these signs regularly it might be time to talk to a mental health professional.
They Show No Regard for Right and Wrong
It’s commonplace for very young children to not fully grasp the difference between right and wrong, but research shows that by the age of two, kids should start to understand this concept.
Children with ASPD often show a lack of knowing (or caring about) what is right and wrong. They typically will ignore societal norms and rules, as well as ignore classroom and home rules. They don’t seem to mind breaking rules and care little for the consequences.
It’s important to note that they don’t just lie, but lie with no guilt. It’s the lack of guilt that makes it different from typical juvenile lying, which is commonplace. Children with ASPD often lie with little to be gained and lie in situations that won’t get them out of trouble.
They Act in Manipulative Ways
Children and adults with ASPD are often very manipulative. This manipulation may be used as a tool to get what they want or, in some cases, they may do it just because they can.
The severity of the manipulation is typically dependent upon the age of the child, with older children displaying more manipulative behavior than younger children.
Lack of Empathy
An additional sign that your child may have antisocial personality disorder is that they lack empathy for those around them. They often won’t feel sorry when people around them are hurting. Additionally, they may not understand why the people around them are sad or upset. Parents will sometimes report that they seem to be missing that natural characteristic of feeling for those around them.
Act Aggressively or Violently
It’s also possible that they may act out with displays of physical or verbal aggression. In some instances, it can be frightening for parents because it happens suddenly. This could also take the form of agitation, irritability, and significant mood changes.
What to Do if You See Some of These Signs
If you are seeing some or all of these signs in your child, don’t let your imagination start running wild with visions about the type of life your child with lead. Start by consulting with a mental health professional. There are treatment options for children and adults that show the characteristic symptoms of sociopathy. A diagnosis of this personality disorder could be a first step in the right direction for your family.
There are a number of clinical treatment options if your child is living with ASPD. Some of the current treatment options include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Problem-solving interventional training
- Behavioral family intervention
- Family therapy and adolescent therapy
A big piece of the treatment plan will revolve around teaching the parents to become better adept at parenting a child with ASPD. Research shows that parenting traits like showing warmth and positive regard are excellent and simple tools. It is necessary to have a plan for discipline, with an authoritative parenting style being an ideal form of parenting.
The most important thing if you suspect that your child might be a sociopath is to find a therapist who can help guide you through the process of diagnosis and treatment. They will be your and your child’s best advocate and source of information.
Raising a child with a mental health issue can be a challenge. Once your child receives a proper diagnosis and begins treatment, their strengths will surface, paving the way for a bright future.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5 (5th edition). (2014). Reference Reviews, 28(3), 36–37. https://doi.org/10.1108/rr-10-2013-0256
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Antisocial personality disorder. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000921.htm
- Mead, H. K., Beauchaine, T. P., & Shannon, K. E. (2010). Neurobiological adaptations to violence across development. Development and psychopathology, 22(1), 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579409990228
- Baumrind, D., Berkowitz, M. W., Lickona, T., Nucci, L. P., Watson, M., & Streight, D. (2008). Parenting for Character: Five Experts, Five Practices (1st ed.). csee.