What is childhood schizophrenia?
Childhood schizophrenia is an uncommon but severe mental disorder in which children interpret reality abnormally. Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking (cognitive), behavior or emotions. It may result in some combination of hallucinations, delusions, and extremely disordered thinking and behavior that impairs your child’s ability to function.
Childhood schizophrenia is essentially the same as schizophrenia in adults, but it occurs early in life and has a profound impact on a child’s behavior and development. With childhood schizophrenia, the early age of onset presents special challenges for diagnosis, treatment, education, and emotional and social development.
Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires lifelong treatment. Identifying and starting treatment for childhood schizophrenia as early as possible may significantly improve your child’s long-term outcome.
How common is childhood schizophrenia?
Childhood schizophrenia is uncommon. Schizophrenia in children younger than 15 years of age is rare. The onset of schizophrenic symptoms before the age of 12 is very rare; it is less than one-sixtieth as common as it is for adults. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of childhood schizophrenia?
The common symptoms of childhood schizophrenia are:
- Seeing things and hearing voices which are not real (hallucinations)
- Odd and eccentric behavior and/or speech
- Unusual or bizarre thoughts and ideas
- Confusing television and dreams from reality
- Confused thinking
- Extreme moodiness
- Ideas that people are out to get them or talking about them (paranoia)
- Severe anxiety and fearfulness
- Difficulty relating to peers, and keeping friends
- Withdrawn and increased isolation
- Worsening personal grooming
The behavior of children with schizophrenia may change slowly over time. For example, children who used to enjoy relationships with others may start to become more shy or withdrawn and seem to be in their own world. Sometimes youngsters will begin talking about strange fears and ideas. They may start to say things that do not make sense. These early symptoms and problems may first be noticed by the child’s school teachers.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if your child has any of the following:
- Developmental delays compared with other siblings or peers
- Failure to meet daily expectations, such as bathing or dressing
- Refusal to socialize
- Slipping in academic performance
- Strange eating rituals
- Excessive suspicion of others
- Lack of emotion or shows emotions inappropriate for the situation
- Strange ideas and fears
- Confusion between dreams or television and reality
- Bizarre ideas, behavior or speech
- Violent or aggressive behavior or agitation
What causes childhood schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia probably occurs because of chemical abnormalities in the brain and problems during the brain’s development, which occur during pregnancy and early childhood development. Doctors do not know what causes these abnormalities. However, experts agree that people can inherit a tendency to develop schizophrenia and that it is not caused by poor parenting or difficulties during childhood
What increases my risk for childhood schizophrenia?
There are many risk factors for childhood schizophrenia, such as:
- Having a family history of schizophrenia
- Increased immune system activation, such as from inflammation or autoimmune diseases
- Older age of the father
- Some pregnancy and birth complications, such as malnutrition or exposure to toxins or viruses that may impact brain development
- Taking mind-altering (psychoactive or psychoactive) drugs during teen years
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is childhood schizophrenia diagnosed?
Diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia involves ruling out other mental health disorders and determining that symptoms aren’t due to substance abuse, medication or a medical condition. The process of diagnosis may involve:
- Physical exam. This may be done to help rule out other problems that could be causing symptoms and to check for any related complications.
- Tests and screenings. These may include tests that help rule out conditions with similar symptoms, and screening for alcohol and drugs. The doctor may also request imaging studies, such as an MRI or CT scan.
- Psychological evaluation. This includes observing appearance and demeanor, asking about thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns, including any thoughts of self-harm or harming others, evaluating ability to think and function at an age-appropriate level, and assessing mood, anxiety and possible psychotic symptoms. This also includes a discussion of family and personal history.
- Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia. Your doctor or mental health professional may use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic criteria for childhood schizophrenia are generally the same as for adult schizophrenia.
The path to diagnosing childhood schizophrenia can sometimes be long and challenging. In part, this is because other conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder, can have similar symptoms.
A child psychiatrist may want to monitor your child’s behaviors, perceptions and thinking patterns for six months or more. As thinking and behavior patterns and signs and symptoms become clearer over time, a diagnosis of schizophrenia may be made.
In some cases, a psychiatrist may recommend starting medications before an official diagnosis is made. This is especially important for symptoms of aggression or self-injury. Some medications can help limit these types of behavior and restore a sense of normalcy.
How is childhood schizophrenia treated?
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Social skills training, vocational rehabilitation, and psychologic and educational support
Schizophrenia cannot be cured, although hallucinations and delusions may be controlled with antipsychotic drugs, such as haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, and risperidone (see Schizophrenia and Delusional Disorder). Children are particularly susceptible to the side effects of antipsychotic drugs. Side effects may include tremors, slowed movements, movement disorders, and metabolic syndrome (which includes obesity, type 2 diabetes, and abnormal levels of fat in the blood
Social skills training, vocational rehabilitation, and psychologic and educational support for the child and counseling for family members are essential to help everyone cope with the disorder and its consequences. Doctors almost always refer children to psychiatrists who specialize in treating children.
Children may need to be hospitalized when symptoms worsen so that drug doses can be adjusted and they can be kept safe.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage childhood schizophrenia?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with childhood schizophrenia:
- Follow directions for medications. Try to make sure that your child takes medications as prescribed, even if he or she is feeling well and has no current symptoms. If medications are stopped or taken infrequently, the symptoms are likely to come back and your doctor will have a hard time knowing what the best and safest dose is.
- Check first before taking other medications. Contact the doctor who’s treating your child for schizophrenia before your child takes medications prescribed by another doctor or before taking any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals, herbs or other supplements. These can interact with schizophrenia medications.
- Pay attention to warning signs. You and your child may have identified things that may trigger symptoms, cause a relapse or prevent your child from carrying out daily activities. Make a plan so that you know what to do if symptoms return. Contact your child’s doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms, to prevent the situation from worsening.
- Make physical activity and healthy eating a priority. Some medications for schizophrenia are associated with an increased risk of weight gain and high cholesterol in children. Work with your child’s doctor to make a nutrition and physical activity plan for your child that will help manage weight and benefit heart health.
- Avoid alcohol, street drugs and tobacco. Alcohol, street drugs and tobacco can worsen schizophrenia symptoms or interfere with antipsychotic medications. Talk to your child about avoiding drugs and alcohol and not smoking. If necessary, get appropriate treatment for a substance use problem.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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10 Warning Signs of Childhood Schizophrenia. http://www.healthcentral.com/slideshow/10-warning-signs-of-childhood-schizophrenia. Accessed September 20, 2017.
Schizophrenia In Children. http://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/FFF-Guide/Schizophrenia-In-Children-049.aspx. Accessed September 20, 2017.
Childhood Schizophrenia - Topic Overview. http://www.webmd.com/schizophrenia/tc/childhood-schizophrenia-topic-overview. Accessed September 20, 2017.
Review Date: September 20, 2017 | Last Modified: September 20, 2017