Understanding Antisocial Behaviour in Children: Four Cases – I

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Prof. Ashoka, a renowned psychiatrist, helps us understand the antisocial behaviour in children, in his erudite research. Here’s the first part of the four-part erudite research, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.  

Antisocial behaviour takes a variety of forms and shapes. Four cases referred for reflect the diversity of situations that may be encountered in clinical settings. 


Bobby, a 12-year-old, was initially referred by Child Protective Services. He had been removed from his parents’ home as a result of abuse and neglect. Bobby’s father was incarcerated in the county jail for burglary, and his mother had been arrested on prostitution charges as she attempted to raise bail money for the father. The home had no heat, running , or electricity. Bobby had two siblings, one older and one younger, and they too had been placed in foster care, although with other foster families. The initial referral was to assist the foster parents in child management concerns for Bobby.  

Bobby was in a class for severely emotionally disturbed children and had been evaluated by a school psychologist who reported a full-scale WISC-R IQ of 72. He reported the score probably was not reflective of Bobby’s intelligence level because Bobby had been very uncooperative, refusing to participate in much of the evaluation process. The teacher completed a classroom observation form which indicated that Bobby was out of his seat often, talked frequently, and was in many ways a highly disturbing element in the classroom. Her evaluation was that Bobby was much too bright to be in a class with slow learners, but that because of his behaviour pattern there were no other classes appropriate for him. She reported that Bobby was the worst behavioural problem in the class of six students and that he often fought both in the classroom and on the playground, frequently took items that belonged to other students or to the school, and lied and cursed with abandon. She also observed that he was cute, friendly, and, for brief moments, could be one of the most lovable students with whom she had worked.  

The foster parents reported that Bobby was the biggest problem they had ever encountered in their 20 years of foster work. He would lie, steal, curse, fight, argue, and run away from home almost daily. His temper tantrums would be unexpected and explosive, at times resulting in damage to household items or walls, doors, and even Bobby’s personal possessions. While quite small for his age, he would have to be physically restrained at times because of feared danger to himself or to others. They reported, though, that he was also the most lovable child they had had in their home and that at times he could be a most helpful, friendly, courteous, and respectful person. One concern of the foster parents was that they had been instructed by Child Protective Services (CPS) to not use corporal punishment. They had always agreed in previous cases, but they didn’t believe they had the skills to discipline Bobby without spankings. In fact, Bobby would frequently seem to deliberately get in trouble and then ask the foster parents to spank him. When they wouldn’t, he would engage in a temper tantrum until they would have to physically restrain him.  

During the initial interview with Bobby, he presented as a cute, smiling, and extremely cooperative student. He fully cooperated with the interviewer, answering questions and participating in a helpful manner. He appeared considerably brighter than his tested score represented and did not appear to have the social problems reported by the teacher and the foster parents. When informed that the purpose of the interview was not to certify that he should be sent back to his family, but to learn about him and to find ways to help his foster parents work more effectively with him, he began a temper tantrum that resulted in his having to be physically restrained to prevent damage to himself and to the equipment and room. From then on he was most uncooperative and belligerent, often cursing and attempting to run away from the interview room. 


Johnni, a 14-year-old seventh grader was referred by CPS because her mother had beaten her following an argument. The argument had developed because of a school contact in which it was reported that Johnni had stolen items from other students and had been in several fights at school. Child Protective Services, in conjunction with the juvenile court, wanted treatment for Johnni in order to alter the behaviour pattern she had demonstrated since entering school. Johnni’s mother reported that she had been difficult to work with since she was a baby, was argumentative, fought a lot even as a pre-schooler, was sullen and insolent, and was very irresponsible. In recent months Johnni had been caught shoplifting and had been taken to the juvenile center. She had also been caught in several acts of vandalism in the community, including damaging a neighbour’s car. There was no father in the home.  

Johnni’s school presented a profile similar to that reported by her mother. Her school record showed behavioural problems going back to the first grade. She was often in fights, frequently refused to participate in school activities, including not doing homework assignments, did not cooperate in school functions, and was often unmanageable on the playground and in the cafeteria. When evaluated by a school psychologist, Johnni was defined as low average in intelligence, with too little deficiency to warrant special placement, although she was marginal. Johnni met early guidelines for a learning-disabled placement in that she was functioning more than two grades below class level, but she had never been placed in remedial classes. 

When Johnni was interviewed, she seemed much disengaged from the process. She appeared to be insolent and angry and was noncooperative. She reported that there was nothing wrong with her and that she just wished people would leave her alone. She attributed her problems to people being nosy and interfering in her life. Johnni also reported that most of the victims of her deserved to be victims, that they had deserved the trouble she gave them. She demonstrated no remorse concerning her actions but seemed put out that she had to answer for her behaviour. She said that her peer group, many members of which had also been in trouble at home, in the community, and at school, was the most important part of her life and that her mother should leave her alone to do as she pleased because she was old enough to take care of herself. She reported that she was sexually active and that she had experimented with alcohol and marijuana, but that what she did with her body was no one’s .  


Candy had been reported to CPS by her teacher because she had come to school with several large bruises on her body. She was 12 years old and in the seventh grade. There were no problems reported at the school, and her academic records indicated that, although she was not a star student, she was a good, average achiever. Teachers reported her as being quiet but friendly and somewhat shy. 

The mother and stepfather reported that Candy had been quite good as a young child. The mother had divorced when Candy was a pre-schooler and had remarried when Candy was in the second grade. Candy and her new stepfather never seemed to get along well. Candy had usually refused to mind him, and as she got older the arguments between the two became more heated and violent. It was the stepfather who apparently had inflicted the bruises on her.  

Candy reported she enjoyed school but that she hated her home life. She said she couldn’t stand to live with her stepfather and that she would never cooperate with him. She said he was rude, crude, and offensive in the way he dressed, ate and behaved around the home. Further, Candy said she would run away from home rather than continue to live with him. 


Billy was referred by his school and his parents. He was a bright sixth grader who was in accelerated placement classes. He had been recognized early as very intellectually capable and had progressed rapidly in his academic skills. He had few effective interpersonal skills, however, and was often in trouble at school and with his peers. Billy particularly liked to tease other students, to show off about how smart he was, and to criticise the work of others. He also liked to take on teachers and would look for to make fun of them in front of the class or to adults. He served as the class clown and would disrupt activities and call attention to himself by doing outlandish things such as wearing flowing capes and broad-brimmed hats to class, turning animals loose in the classroom, setting fires in the closet, and engaging in other highly disruptive behaviours, although he usually avoided physical fights or altercations.  

Billy’s parents reported equally disruptive behaviour at home. They had always found him to be bright and advanced for his age and assumed he would outgrow the disruptive behaviour patterns. However, as he grew older, he became considerably more difficult around the home and regularly questioned his parents’ authority over him. The parents reported considerable marital difficulty and attributed much of the for their problems to Billy, stating that dealing with him took so much energy that there was little left over for the adults to share in their time together

During the interview, Billy treated the behavioural problems mostly as a joke and reported he thought it was funny that adults couldn’t handle him. He said he thought they were too slow to keep up with him and that he didn’t respect people who couldn’t cope with his antics. He showed no sense of responsibility for his actions toward others. 

(To be continued)

©Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad 

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Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad

Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad is a physician /psychiatrist holding doctorates in pharmacology, history and philosophy plus a higher doctorate. He is also a qualified barrister and geneticist. He is a regular columnist in several newspapers, has published over 100 books and has been described by the Cambridge News as the 'most educationally qualified in the world'.
Prof. Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad