ADHD: Prosocial, Antisocial, and Undersocialized Reactions

Reader’s Question

I am writing from Toronto. I am very worried about my nephew who will be sponsored to Canada with his mother from China. He has been a trouble maker since he was born. Now he is 11 years old and his situation has become worse.

His parents divorced when he was 3 years old. Before his parents divorced, his parents would fight with each other every day which I think had a bad influence on him. His father had an affair with a dancer. One day when his father was quarreling furiously with his mother, he threw the TV from the balcony of 8th floor and he even wanted to throw my nephew to death. That was a family tragedy. Even though my nephew was only 3 years old, he said daddy wanted to kill me and escaped from his apartment to hide himself below the stairs of the 4th floor.

During his parents’ divorce, his father refused to take care of him and his mother. My cousin had to take care of him alone. My cousin had to work hard to support the family and my nephew has become a trouble maker.

When he was in kindergarten, he always beat other kids. After he went to elementary school, he had big problems in study and couldn’t concentrate. When the teacher was in class, he just walked out of the classroom. No matter what the teacher asked him, he looked like he didn’t hear anything. When my family members had a party, he messed up everything. He threw glasses to the floor like it was a game. When other relatives stopped him, he spat at their face. When his mother and I went shopping, he took goods from stores and ran away like he was at home.

Since I emmigrated to Canada, I haven’t seen him for 3 years. My mother just came back from China and she told me she was very scared about him. Now he is not a small kid anymore and has become the same height as his mother. He even has problems in speaking. I feel very sorry about him. I remember he started walking very late but when he could only crawl on the floor, he could talk clearly. He was good looking and eloquent; he was naughty but still adorable. From 4 years old, his mother found he was too active and took him to see many doctors. Doctors checked his body, took brain CT of him, and took blood test, and so on, however, could not find any physical problems.

My mother told me a story about him which just happened 2 weeks ago before she came back. All my relatives had a farewell dinner at a restaurant for my mother. They had a hot pot, and the boy suddenly poured a whole bottle of wine on the alcohol stove and made a big fire, burning a relative’s eyebrow. His aunt was so angry and scolded him. He suddenly ran out of the restaurant. When my relatives realized what happened and tried to follow him, he had disappeared. Then, my mother and all relatives looked for him in the area and finally found him. Then they came back to the restaurant to continue the dinner. During the dinner, he went to other tables, took other customers’ dishes and ate freely. Other customers looked at him surprisedly, but he ate without caring about anybody.

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After I heard the story, I couldn’t go to sleep. I know his psychological sickness becomes worse and worse. There is no psychology service in China. He is just an 11 year-old, we still can do something, otherwise I don’t know what will happen with him. His mother is going to marry again and she feels her son is hopeless. She cried to me many times and hopes someone can help her. Please save the boy! Thank you very much!

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, the nephew has several problem issues. He has all the major features of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) such as physical hyperactivity, poor impulse control, and inattention. There are medications and other treatments available for his ADHD.

Your nephew is also showing signs of being “undersocialized”. Let me explain that one. Children with ADHD have excessive energy, poor attention, and act before thinking. If they are brought up in an emotionally healthy and calm home — the are “prosocial” and their ADHD makes them funny, energetic, playful, and the class clown. The direction of their ADHD symptoms is positive.

ADHD children who are brought up in a home with angry, hostile, resentful, antisocial or criminal parents show an “antisocial” direction for their energy — fighting, bullying, stealing, staying out all night, etc. About 40 percent of youth in juvenile correctional facilities have a diagnosis of ADHD and come from antisocial homes.

Some ADHD children are brought up in very socially and emotionally unstable homes where there are few rules, no control, little discipline, and the parents spend most of their personal time trying to survive. These ADHD children become “undersocialized” and act with few social controls. They can be severely attention-seeking and are not polite or concerned with the rights of others.

I suspect your nephew has both ADHD and “undersocialized” behavior. I would recommend that he first be seen by a psychiatrist or mental health specialist for ADHD, possibly for medications. He would next benefit from a therapist or counselor. As a family, he would need a very structured home with firm rules and policies. There is hope for this young man but it will require time and the effort of loving and concerned family.

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