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Childhood Schizophrenia

Childhood Schizophrenia

Childhood schizophrenia, also known as pediatric or early-onset schizophrenia, is a specific schizophrenia spectrum disorder. This pediatric disorder is characterized by the onset of this disease before the age of thirteen. In general, earlier onset of this mental illness is more severe than later first occurrences. It is essential 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 have shown improvement, though many need support systems in place for the rest of their lives.

Childhood Schizophrenia Diagnosis

This disease is diagnosed the same way that adult-onset types are diagnosed. This is through physical, psychological, and behavioral evaluations from medical professionals, caregivers, and self-reports.

Mental health professionals refer to the diagnostic criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The series of evaluations may include the following:

  • Physical examination – this is generally done to rule out other possible problems that could trigger the observed symptoms. At the same time, the process will allow the doctors to check for signs of complications.
  • Screenings – tests and screenings are done to rule out other mental health conditions as well. This will also help the doctors determine whether or not the patient is showing symptoms of substance or alcohol abuse.
  • Psychological evaluation – the evaluation is a bit more complex than the first two. Aside from observing the patient’s demeanor, it also involves actively conversing with the patient to hopefully determine whether he or she thinks and functions according to his or her age. This will also help the patient open up about his or her feelings and thoughts, including those that may involve harming oneself and other people.

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.

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.

Early Signs of Childhood Schizophrenia

Early signs of the disorder can be categorized according to the patient’s specific age group: infants, toddlers, school-aged, adolescents, and teens. As previously mentioned, it can be difficult to detect these symptoms. In fact, some of them are not exclusively associated with schizophrenia. Some children may even display the same behavioral changes, but don’t necessarily have schizophrenia or any other disorder.

For that reason, mental health professionals strongly suggest that parents take note of any unusual changes in their children’s behavior particularly if the said behaviors persist or if the family has any history of schizophrenia and other conditions. Some of the symptoms to look out for are as follows:

  • Low energy or inactivity for long periods in infants. This may be accompanied by an unusual sensitivity to bright lights.
  • Hallucinations and delusions. Both auditory hallucinations and visual hallucinations are common among school-aged children. However, once they reach their teenage years or early adulthood, they may start experiencing delusions.
  • Disorganized behavior, speech, and thoughts. Others may display a complete lack of speech.
  • Teens and adolescents may start showing signs of withdrawal from their friends and other social activities.
  • An inability to perform age-appropriate daily self-care tasks.

Progression of Childhood Schizophrenia Symptoms

Once the condition starts to progress, the symptoms of people with schizophrenia are then categorized into the following:

Positive Symptoms

These symptoms are the traits and behaviors that the patient acquires due to the progression of the disorder. Here are some examples.

  • Delusion and the belief that one is at risk or susceptible to situations or persons that can cause some type of harm.
  • Severe anxiety and changes in behavior.
  • Inability or difficulty in distinguishing one’s dreams from reality.
  • Showing a regressive behavior.
  • Confusion and sudden inability to comprehend

Negative Symptoms

As they come to develop new traits and behaviors, they also lose some.

  • Inability to react or show emotions accordingly.
  • Withdrawal from friends and other relationships.
  • Inability to make eye contact or show emotional expressions.

Disorganized Speech

Children with schizophrenia often develop a certain difficulty in their spoken and written communication.

  • Losing focus or difficulty to follow while in a conversation.
  • Using terms or words that are not familiar or make any sense to other people.
  • Difficulty in constructing sound sentences.

Catatonic Behavior

Signs of impaired behavior is another symptom of schizophrenia that can develop over time.

  • Exhibiting extreme moodiness.
  • Dressing, acting and speaking inappropriately.
  • Personal hygiene is being left out.
  • Sudden irritability and agitation.

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 an 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.  While antipsychotic drugs are typically used as the first line of treatment, antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may also be prescribed depending on the child’s symptoms.

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 between the 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.

Final Thoughts on Childhood Schizophrenia

There is no denying the fact that schizophrenia in children is hard to diagnose. In fact, this may not be apparent until the child starts exhibiting episodes of psychosis or other behavioral changes that are not particularly normal for his or her age.

However, the continuing efforts to study and understand the disorder will ultimately help parents and medical professionals in providing better assistance to children with this condition.

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