Childhood schizophrenia, also known as pediatric or early-onset schizophrenia, is characterized by the onset of this disease before the age of eighteen. This disease is diagnosed the same way that adult-onset types are diagnosed. This is through behavior observation from medical professionals, caregivers, and self-reports. It may be more difficult to diagnose this disorder in childhood because symptoms can be confused with other issues and because children may not be able to describe their own symptoms well.
In general, earlier onset of this mental illness is more severe than later first occurrences. It is important to seek treatment as quickly as possible and stick to a treatment plan. About a quarter of patients with schizophrenia in childhood do fully recover, and many more improve enough to live relatively independent lives. In fact, the vast majority of children who suffer from this malady improve though many need support systems in place for the rest of their lives.
Childhood Schizophrenia Symptoms
Many signs and symptoms of this malady are the same as the ones demonstrated by adult sufferers. However, because children are still developing, some symptoms may be confused with symptoms of other developmental issues or even normal imaginative behavior.
- Hallucinations and delusions
- Disorganized behavior, speech, and thoughts
- Catatonic behavior
- A complete lack of speech
- Low energy
- An inability to perform age-appropriate daily self-care tasks
It may be difficult, for example, to tell if a child is telling a story because he is engaging in normal imaginative play or because he is actually suffering from hallucinations. The lack of speech could be caused by a learning disability or even a hearing impairment. Family doctors and even pediatricians may not consider the possibility of childhood schizophrenia. They may even dismiss issues as simple developmental differences in normal children.
Concerned parents may be wise to seek out specialized help as soon as possible if any symptoms are alarming. Earlier treatment tends to result in better eventual outcomes and less grief for the child and his family.
If your child is suffering from an acute episode, you might take him to an emergency room or call an ambulance. It might not be childhood schizophrenia, but any acute episode is surely a symptom of some urgent malady. Pediatric schizophrenia must be treated as early as possible.
Treatment for Schizophrenia in Children
If a child is diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia, expect a long-term treatment program for a chronic condition. While many children do improve, or even recover, treatment may help prevent another occurrence in difficult cases. The removal of treatment, especially medications, may provoke another episode. Treatment plans might consist of medication and various types of therapy.
Antipsychotic medication prescriptions may be ordered by a psychiatrist, just at a lower dose than is prescribed for full-grown adults. Many adult medications are not FDA approved for children, but doctors can still write prescriptions for off-label use. Be aware that some of these medications may have serious side effects in children. It is important to follow the psychiatrist’s recommendations exactly for monitoring and managing use.
Psychotherapy is another tool used to help children manage their mental illness. Children and caregivers can use this opportunity to learn more about their disease, and also how to manage situations that may make them feel anxious and tend to aggravate symptoms.
Children may have both individual and family therapy in order to fully cope with their disease. Parents and siblings may also benefit from education and therapy to help them cope with living in the same house as a mentally ill person. Living with a mentally ill individual can be stressful for everybody in a household. Family therapy helps families stay supportive and cohesive under stress.
Childhood Therapy Prognosis
In general, better outcomes are usually associated with later onsets of this illness. In addition, higher functioning youngsters tend to recover more fully. Since many children have not had a chance to become fully-functioning, this can be a severe handicap. Even the onset of symptoms before age 13 may be associated with less positive outcomes than onset for kids betweenthe ages of 13 and 18.
The earlier that symptoms develop the more social skills training and therapy will be needed to help the child cope. It is important to seek medical treatment early, and then consistently stick to a treatment plan. Be sure and report any symptom or behavior changes to a medical professional immediately.
There is good news about childhood schizophrenia. Over half of those who suffer schizophrenia in childhood either fully recover or improve enough to live fairly independent lives. The vast majority do improve to some degree, though some will always need a support network in place. Combinations of early intervention, prescription medication, individual psychotherapy, and family therapy are associated with better outcomes.