Although many cases of schizophrenia begin in the teen or early adult years, children as young as 5 years old can develop schizophrenia. Childhood symptoms of schizophrenia before age 12 are uncommon, affecting only three in every 1,000 children, according to Mental Health America (2010).
As one of the most complicated of all psychiatric disorders, schizophrenia may cause any combination of these symptoms:
- Delusions (incorrect perceptions and beliefs about reality)
- Distortion of reality
- Dramatic personality and mood changes
- General confusion
- Hallucinations (perceiving visions and/or sounds without a physical stimulus)
For a person to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, these symptoms must persist for at least six months. Although researchers are still investigating the exact causes of schizophrenia, most experts agree that the condition arises from a combination of genetic and environmental causes.
Schizophrenia Childhood Symptoms
Schizophrenia in childhood causes different symptoms than in adult schizophrenia. Childhood symptoms include:
- Delays in the ability to learn language
- Difficulty with academic achievement
- Extreme moodiness
- High anxiety levels
- Impaired motor skills
- Nearly constant fear
- Socialization issues, such as problems maintaining friendships
- Symptoms of pervasive developmental disorder (frequent rocking back and forth, arm flapping, etc.)
- Uneven motor development (odd crawling behavior, etc.).
Schizophrenia in childhood tends to develop and intensify over many years, as opposed to schizophrenia in adults, which is usually marked by a dramatic, easily identifiable onset of symptoms.
Diagnosing Children with Schizophrenia
Because of its wide range of symptoms, this condition is difficult to diagnose, especially in children with schizophrenia. Children may have a hard time describing their feelings and fears, and adults often dismiss symptoms of schizophrenia in childhood as common behavior.
A therapist or psychiatrist with a specialty in schizophrenia can diagnose schizophrenia in childhood, using the American Psychiatry Association’s DSM-IV diagnosis criteria.
A diagnosis of schizophrenia requires the presence of schizophrenia childhood symptoms in the absence of other mental disorders, substance abuse or sleep disorders. Doctors may initially diagnosis schizophrenia in childhood as a nonspecific psychotic disorder, and later change the diagnosis to schizophrenia as symptoms develop.
Treating Children with Schizophrenia
Treatment for children with schizophrenia varies depending on the type and severity of schizophrenia. Childhood symptoms are usually treated with antipsychotic medication and therapy. Early treatment is key to helping affected kids learn how to live healthy, productive lives.
Mayo Clinic. (2008). Childhood schizophrenia. Retrieved July 27, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/childhood-schizophrenia/DS00868
Mental Health America. (2010). Schizophrenia in children. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from http://www.nmha.org/index.cfm?objectid=C7DF980C-1372-4D20-C8BA1DC89DBEAD32