We're hearing a lot about a Tennessee family who sent their troubled 7-year-old son, adopted from Russia, alone on a plane back to his home country with a note saying they no longer wanted to parent the child. Their reasons — outlined in the note according to the Associated Press — stated:
"This child is mentally unstable. He is violent and has severe psychopathic issues. "I was lied to and misled by the Russian Orphanage workers and director regarding his mental stability and other issues. "After giving my best to this child, I am sorry to say that for the safety of my family, friends and myself, I no longer wish to parent this child."
According to the boy's adopted grandmother, he was violent, angry and threatened to burn the house down.
Every kid has temper tantrums that could turn heads in the grocery aisle, but threatening arson and increasingly violent actions is entirely different. That kind of behavior from an adult could easily lead to a criminal record, but coming from a 7-year-old boy, is it the behavior of a sociopath?
And for the record, when we say sociopath, we're talking about "a person, as a psychopathic personality, whose behavior is antisocial and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience," according to dictionary.com.
For the answer we turned to Clinical Psychologist Jill Weber.
Dr. Jill Weber:
She also cautioned against labeling children as antisocial so early in their lives…
What about kids torturing animals at a young age, the classic sign of a future serial killer?
So at what point does this kind of behavior become irreversible?
So it's not something that just happens, according to Dr. Weber, but rather something that develops over time. She says diagnosing an adult as having an extreme antisocial personality disorder — what most of us would call a sociopath — is complicated. However, a person's history of behavior and social interaction are huge factors in making that assessment.