Is My Kid a Sociopath?

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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?

Most of us know this diagnosis by it’s more conversational name, being a sociopath. The clinical term for someone with this mental health disorder is antisocial personality disorder or APD.  About 3 percent of men and about 1 percent of women will receive this.

According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic guide used by psychologists, the main symptoms of APD include:

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  • 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
  • Deceitfulness
  • A childhood diagnosis (or symptoms consistent with) conduct disorder

According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of APD has 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. Other experts have found a possible link to an adaptation during brain development in utero.

Signs Your Child is a Sociopath

So, as a parent what should you be looking for to know if your child might have APD?

These are 5 signs that your suspicion might be correct. Keep in mind that all children go through phases where they tell lies or act uncharacteristically. This doesn’t necessarily make them a sociopath. But, if you are seeing these signs regularly it might be time to talk to a mental health professional.

Sign 1: 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 APD 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. What’s more, they don’t seem to mind breaking rule and care little for the consequences.

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Sign 2: Frequent Lying

Another sign is frequent lying. 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 APD often lie with little to be gained and lie in situations that won’t get them out of trouble. 

Sign 3: They Act in Manipulative Ways

Children and adults with APD are often very manipulative. This manipulation may be to get what they want or in some cases, it may just be because they have the ability to manipulate another person.

The severity fo the manipulation is typically dependent upon the age of the child, with older children displaying more manipulative behavior than younger children.

Sign 4: Seem to Lack 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. They also may not understand why the people around them are sad or upset. Parents will sometimes report that they just seem to be missing that inborn characteristic of feeling for those around them. 

Sign 5: 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 like a light switch went off. This could also take the form of agitation, irritability, significant changes in mood. 

What to do it you see some of these signs ?

If you are seeing some or all of these signs in your child, don’t lose hope. 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.

Treatment options for Antisocial Personality Disorder in Children

There are a number of clinical treatment options if your child is living with APD. 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 APD. 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 you and your child’s best advocate and source of information.

Raising a child with a mental health issue can be a challenge. APD is no different. Once your child receives a proper diagnosis and treatment can begin, you will find that your child has a bright future full of potential.

Kristen has a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Forensic Psychology, she worked as a rape crisis counselor, inmate counselor. The research focus was on collecting data to assess the effectiveness of treatments for inmates living with PTSD. She founded a company specializing in Industrial & Organizational Psychology, applying clinical psychological practices in the business world. She is currently the Clinical Program Manager at Resility Health and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Rowan College.