Childhood Schizoprenia

While schizophrenia typically develops anywhere from late adolescence to mid to late twenties, there are times when it develops in childhood. If it does, the onset generally occurs between 7 years of age and puberty 1. According to one statistic, childhood schizophrenia affects about 0.3% of children under the age of 12 2.

Symptoms

Just as in adult schizophrenia, childhood schizophrenia includes psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations. It may also include bizarre behaviors, unusual or odd thinking, and difficulties performing even basic tasks such as taking a bath.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Little expression of emotion or showing inappropriate emotion for a given situation
  • Difficulties focusing
  • Severe mood swings
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Learning problems – particularly with language
  • Difficulties with school performance
  • Very frequent fearfulness
  • Difficulties with social interactions / having a hard time making or keeping friends or withdrawing socially
  • Agitation
  • Strange or incoherent speech
  • Rocking oneself, flapping one’s arms, and other symptoms often seen in autism and similar developmental disorders
  • Problems with motor development and skills
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Unusual eating behaviors

Unfortunately, when a child develops schizophrenia, the symptoms may progress more slowly than they do for adolescents or adults. Since they can be vague, it may seem like something is “off”, but it’s hard to pinpoint. Parents and teachers may attribute them to a mere phase in the child’s development. But in time, the symptoms become more serious and thus more noticeable, especially when psychotic symptoms such as delusions and / or hallucinations begin to appear.

When to seek help

If you notice any unusual behaviors or thought processes in your child, or a decline in performance or general functioning, you should have him/her evaluated as soon as possible rather than wait. The early symptoms may be due to a variety of things besides schizophrenia, such as anxiety or depression, or a medical condition of some sort. An evaluation by a pediatrician or other qualified medical or mental health professional can help rule out potential causes, and thus narrow down the likely diagnosis.

Treatment options

Once diagnosed, there are several treatment options for childhood schizophrenia. These are the same as for adult schizophrenia:

  • Medication
  • Hospitalization
  • Family and individual therapy
  • Training to help with social skills and school performance

A note on medication for children

The medications used for the treatment of childhood schizophrenia are the same as for adult schizophrenia. However, most antipsychotics are not yet FDA approved for children. Two which have been approved for pediatric use are Risperdal and Abilify. However, others, such as Seroquel, Geodon, and Zyprexa are being considered 3.

written by Dr. Cheryl Lane, PsyD

References

  1. Childhood Schizophrenia from the Merck Manual
  2. Schizophrenia in children
  3. FDA Panel OKs More Antipsychotics for Children

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