Schizophrenia is most common in young adults, but it can also affect children. Childhood schizophrenia occurs in around 1 in 40,000 children, but irrespective of what age it occurs, the illness is chronic and causes immense problems for children with schizophrenia and their families.
Children with schizophrenia—at what age is the illness normally diagnosed?
It would be very unlikely for a child younger then seven to be diagnosed with schizophrenia. Younger children can sometimes act in strange ways, but most mental health professionals wait for symptoms to develop a long term pattern before diagnosing a younger child with schizophrenia. However, if an older child starts hearing voices or sees things that are not there, it is definitely abnormal behavior and could be an early sign of schizophrenia.
Childhood onset of schizophrenia symptoms
The diagnostic criteria of schizophrenia are the same for adults and children except that the symptoms occur much earlier. In adults and teenagers, the symptoms of schizophrenia can develop suddenly, but when schizophrenia affects children, it usually takes a lot longer for the illness to become apparent.
Children with schizophrenia may show signs of abnormal interruptions in the development of language or motor skills prior to the onset of schizophrenia, but as the illness progresses, other symptoms will begin to emerge. These can include hallucinations and paranoia, inappropriate reactions to social situations, a lack of emotion, difficulties paying attention and depression.
What other illnesses are the symptoms of childhood onset of schizophrenia sometimes mistaken for?
Unfortunately, children with schizophrenia are often misdiagnosed as the illness can mimic many other serious mental health problems such as autism, bipolar disorder, and personality disorders. Victims of child abuse can also exhibit the symptoms of psychosis often seen in those suffering from schizophrenia.
What causes schizophrenia in children?
When schizophrenia symptoms occur before the age of 12, they are normally caused by abnormal brain development. The childhood onset of schizophrenia causes a loss of brain tissue and MRI scans carried out on children diagnosed with schizophrenia have revealed large fluid filled cavities in the middle sections of the brain.
But although there is clear evidence of brain abnormalities in children with schizophrenia, there are also thought to be many other factors responsible for the development of the illness in children. These include an existing genetic predisposition towards schizophrenia, prenatal infections, oxygen deprivation at birth, and a dysfunctional childhood.
The genetic link in families with a child diagnosed as having schizophrenia is very strong and research has indicated that there are certain genes responsible for the onset of childhood schizophrenia: close relatives of a child diagnosed with childhood inset schizophrenia are two times as likely to develop a mental illness in the schizophrenia spectrum of disorders.
What treatments are available for children with schizophrenia?
There are many modern treatments now available to help children with schizophrenia lead normal lives and cope with their illness.
New generations of anti psychotics such as clozapine can help to reduce hallucinations and delusional behavior.
Other treatment options include families counseling and psychotherapy, and with the right help, a child with schizophrenia can learn to manage their symptoms and continue with their education.
- Hallucinations in Children and Adolescents: Considerations in the Emergency Setting, by Gail A. Edelson, 05/01/2006. THE AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY Volume 163 Issue 5, May, 2006, pp. 781-785