Are there signs that would identify a child as being at risk for becoming a sociopath?
Look for a very young child who pulls away consistently, not occasionally, from the kind of hug most little kids like.
Look for a child who can concentrate on only one thing at a time, ever, often to the point he or she drives parents 'up a wall'.
Look for a child who is never really happy. And who is manipulatve, sneaky, and deceitful from the earliest age.
Look for a child who hurts the family pet, or someone else's. Or who sets fires. Or who will not listen. Who throws toys no matter what you say. Who constantly seems restless and to be trying to shake something off. Who falls asleep in school. Who can't follow through in anything no matter how interested he or she seems to be in it. Who bangs his head against the wall and bites him- or herself in wordless frustration. Who suddenly starts shrieking in a frenzied tantrum out of the blue.
Then look for a good child therapist.
A word of caution: some of the above are also symptoms of other conditions such as trauma from child sexual abuse, or juvenile autism, or reactive attachment disorder, or attention deficit disorder.
== == And if you possibly can, find someone trained by Dr. Robert Hare of Canada; he has developed a specialized type of therapy that will help child psychopaths (sociopaths) veer off the destructive path and have the best life the illness allows! Arguably, he is the ONLY one who knows how to train therapists to deal with sociopaths, and has a special type of therapy developed for children with this devastating mental illness.
See his BOOK, "Without Conscience," available at online bookshops, and you'll be able to understand much more.
Sociopaths are the way they are because, from birth onward, the brain of a sociopath stores learning information in a random, chaotic way instead of in the usual designated places in the cerebral cortex. Part of this involves lack of crucial neurotransmitters, but as of yet no one knows whether this lack is caused BY the brain abnormality or is the cause OF it. It's probably the former.
Since their information -- including emotional information -- is scattered all over both brain hemispheres, it takes too long for the brain to retrieve and process information, and the entire process of socialization becomes so ponderous that ultimately it fails. (See the book "Without Conscience" by Robert Hare, PhD.)
Since the entire cerebral cortex of a sociopath is almost never at a normal level of alertness (their waking brain waves resemble the waves of a normal person in a light sleep, alpha waves), this may be the crucial deficiency that cripples the developing child's ability to develop many aspects of the human mind. As the child grows, some of the basic mental and emotional skills the rest of the world takes so for granted never develop, and crucial among these is the thing called conscience. That one never develops at all.
Some people may envy the apparent calm of a sociopath, but their existence is misery. They cannot connect with other human beings, and as babies they are so uncomfortable being held that they fight to wriggle free of all but the most basic necessary contact. Their heartbroken parents often blame themselves or the child, never knowing that what is really wrong with the child is in his or her brain.
Under the almost somnolent calm sociopaths project is a constant sense of restlessness and unfulfillment that is nothing other than the basic need all people have to receive stimulation and support from others. But a sociopath has no way of receiving this even if it's offered. The endless frustration of this, and a discomfort that they are utterly incapable of articulating or even really understanding, is the source of much of their chronic anger and aggression.
Plus, since they grow up in constant conflict with authority, they are most often bitterly angry and sometimes violent adults, brittle and combatative under a thin veneer of charm. Offered friendship, they appear to respond, but quickly discover that they can get nothing from it; they see the obvious pleasure of other people in such contact with each other, and they often seek to "even it up" by stealing what they can -- material goods, or even human lives. They are constantly told how "bad" they are, and by adulthood, most of them believe it. And behave accordingly.
Sociopaths rarely feel true happiness. If they do, it is usually in the condition that some kind of intervention -- such as one of the small number of medications made for other conditions that may also help somewhat with theirs -- has taken place, and it will be fleeting. For all their frantic racing around, they are really very dead inside, and this is tragic beyond description. Imagine spending your entire life trying to get your brain to wake up! And failing. Thousands of times.
There are stories of people diagnosed as sociopaths who did improve to some degree, with the most ceaseless and diligent help. But since the vast majority of this huge body of people (there are more than three hundred million sociopaths on Earth) cannot get that kind of attention, they turn to abusing those they envy, and often to crime. It is certainly vengeance: "If I can't have any of this, why should you?" This is the real reason sociopaths lash out at strong and kind people. No matter what they say, they know that inside, they are always empty and damaged beyond repair.
Only in neuroscience is there hope for these incomplete people. The key lies in awakening the brain, which is risky because sociopaths are much more prone to seizures than the rest of the population, and that -- an uncontrolled blast of electrical discharge spreading through the brain and causing violent convulsions -- is likely to be the first response from brain pathways that, after years or even decades of silence, are suddenly flooded with impulses. But if the devices of neurosurgeons can be tweaked to avoid this shock, and all else related to this idea is workable, it's feasible that small electronic devices planted in the brain (these already exist, but are not yet being used for mental illness) could open up a closed connection.
That leaves us with the problem of whether a lifetime of scattered information can ever be set into order. Probably the best that could be hoped for would be a kind of retraining -- like what is now done with stroke survivors and head injury patients -- that would be both intensive and compensatory.
One of the things that would be necessary would be to try to socialize the person whose congenital birth defect made such a thing completely impossible before. Whatever intervention is used, be it drugs or computer chips or what have you, it would probably -- I'd say certainly -- be excruciating for the patient at first. With no knowledge of how to cope with the emotions the rest of the world has been dealing with all their lives, the recovering sociopath would be rendered as vulnerable as a baby. Which makes sense, because some of the most basic aspects of the human mind would be developing from the primordial stasis in which they had remained since birth!
A person thus treated would never be fully normal, but the human brain is amazing in the way it adapts and continues to develop all through life. And given the utterly joyless and meaningless existence a sociopath leads, any improvement is better than none.
The matter of missing neurotransmitters in a sociopath is, of course, another problem. Would "waking up" the cerebral cortex eventually stimulate production of these? Or would they have to be synthesized? Only time will tell.
Just as science understands that epilepsy is not demonic possession, that people with dissociative conditions are not harboring ghosts or devils in their bodies, and that depression is not a "deadly sin," it would and will be able to prove that sociopathy happens for a reason and that it can be dealt with. Sociopaths do very bad things. But branding them all "pure evil" isn't going to help anyone. It's just more hate.
I have commented elsewhere that the human brain is the greatest new frontier in many ways. (Although I certainly have no lack of interest in space.) Sociopaths, along with other "hopeless cases" like people with Alzheimer's disease, Down's syndrome, Asperger's, ADD, ADHD, autism, and the schizophrenias, along with more common disorders such as depression and addiction, and so on, are a mystery, but scientists have a way of hammering away at mysteries until they unravel them, and, be assured, they are well on their way to the core of this one.