Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Can a kid be a psychopath?

from BoingBoing:
The New York Times has a fascinating (and, FYI, kind of disturbing) story about young kids who exhibit psychological symptoms similar to what you see in adult psychopaths. It's a complex subject because, while everybody involved agrees these kids could use some kind of intervention, nobody knows exactly what that intervention should be and definitely don't want to stick the kids with a terrifying label that will follow them for their whole lives. More importantly, what we do know is that half of these kids will grow into normal adults—though we don't know exactly why.

It's an awkward situation where the science hasn't yet caught up to the personal need. In a perfect world, you might not want to mess around too much with this until we can learn more. But on the other hand, you're left with families that clearly need help now—like the family profiled in the story that must navigate how to deal with a nine-year-old who oscillates between violent tantrums and creepy, logical chill.
When I first met Michael, he seemed shy but remarkably well behaved. While his brother Allan ran through the house with a plastic bag held overhead like a parachute, Michael entered the room aloofly, then curled up on the living room sofa, hiding his face in the cushions. “Can you come say hello?” Anne asked him. He glanced at me, then sprang cheerfully to his feet. “Sure!” he said, running to hug her. Reprimanded for bouncing a ball in the kitchen, he rolled his eyes like any 9-year-old, then docilely went outside. A few minutes later, he was back in the house, capering antically in front of Jake, who was bobbing up and down on his sit-and-ride scooter. When the scooter tipped over, Michael gasped theatrically and ran to his brother’s side. “Jake, are you O.K.?” he asked, wide-eyed with concern. Earnestly ruffling his youngest brother’s hair, he flashed me a winning smile.

If the display of brotherly affection felt forced, it was difficult to see it as fundamentally disturbed. Gradually, though, Michael’s behavior began to morph. While queuing up a Pok√©mon video on the family’s computer upstairs, Michael turned to me and remarked crisply, “As you can see, I don’t really like Allan.” When I asked if that was really true, he said: “Yes. It’s true,” then added tonelessly, “I hate him.”

Glancing down a second later, he noticed my digital tape recorder on the table. “Did you record that?” he asked. I said that I had. He stared at me briefly before turning back to the video. When a sudden noise from the other room caused me to glance away, Michael seized the opportunity to grab the recorder and press the erase button. (Waschbusch later noted that such a calculated reprisal was unusual in a 9-year-old, who would normally go for the recorder immediately or simply whine and sulk.)
Read the full story at the New York Times

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