“We are terrified our child will grow up to seriously hurt someone,” the US mum tells Mamamia. “We are afraid we will be demonised when this happens and everyone will ask, ‘But where were the parents?!’
“In America, most of us fear our children becoming school shooters. In England, parents are afraid their children will knife someone to death. The particular kind of violence we fear may be different, but we all fear our children will grow up to hurt someone despite our years of screaming for help.”
The support group that Quillan started on Facebook four years ago is called Parents of Children with Conduct Disorder. It has around 800 members, including “quite a few” from Australia.
Conduct disorder is the diagnosis that these children have been given, but Quillan doesn’t like the term, because she doesn’t think it gets across the seriousness of the condition. She sometimes uses the expression “potential psychopath”, although she agrees it may seem very harsh at first glance.
“We’ve certainly had a few people baulk at it,” she adds. “But make no mistake. Left untreated, CD can turn into psychopathy. And that is something we should never forget.”
Quillan says most parents in the group realised there was something different about their child between the ages of two and four. Some came to the realisation during babyhood.
In Quillan’s case, her son started physically hurting her when he was less than a year old. As he grew older, he was constantly harming other children. He wasn’t invited to parties, and parents would avoid them in the park. For years, she told family, friends and doctors that she thought there was something wrong with him, but no one believed her.
The Victorian Department of Health’s website describes conduct disorder as a set of problem behaviours seen in children and adolescents.
These include aggression towards people and animals, law-breaking behaviour such as theft and arson, lying, lack of empathy, and refusal to obey parents or other authority figures.
According to the website, children with conduct disorder often start life as irritable and temperamental babies. The disorder is twice as common in boys as girls, and is usually diagnosed between the ages of 10 and 16. If left untreated, children with conduct disorder can grow up to have mental health problems, to develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs, or to live a “law-breaking lifestyle”.
Quillan says other signs parents notice in their kids include lack of remorse, impulsive behaviour (or “daredevil” activity), a need to win at all costs (including cheating) and manipulation of parents or siblings.