Childhood schizophrenia, although rare, is equally as debilitating as adult-onset schizophrenia. The criterion for diagnosing childhood schizophrenia is that of adults, with the one difference being the age of onset of symptoms. In adults, schizophrenia usually develops in the late teens or early 20’s—for children it’s the age of 12.
Causes of Childhood Schizophrenia
As with adult-onset schizophrenia, childhood schizophrenia has no known cause. Evidence suggests that a combination of genetic predisposition, environmental factors, and neurological differences might cause childhood schizophrenia, but more research is needed in this area.
Children subjected to pre-natal trauma from illness or other maladies might be at a higher risk of childhood schizophrenia, and children of families with a history of schizophrenia might be at an increased risk of develop the disease. Because antipsychotic medication appears to be an effective treatment of reducing symptoms in schizophrenia, there is almost certainly a neurological component to the illness.
Diagnosis and Symptoms
Diagnosing schizophrenia in children is difficult, because it is often mistaken for other illness like Autism and Bi-polar disorder. Also, when clinicians are formulating a diagnosis, they must take into account the age of the child to establish if certain behaviors are not normal for that age group. After all, it is common for children to make-believe and live out fantasies, and this play might see misinterpreted as the hallucinations or delusions common in schizophrenia.
Symptoms of childhood schizophrenia are the same as adult-onset schizophrenia, but more difficult to detect until a pattern of behavior is established. After about the age of 7, hallucinations and delusions present for greater than six months indicate the possible presence of schizophrenia.
Other symptoms include strange or unusual social responses, paranoid behavior, difficulty making and keeping friends, suicidal thoughts, flat-affect and moodiness. Children with schizophrenia may have difficulty concentrating or might feel that someone is out to get them. Inattention to personal hygiene and problems with school are common.
If left untreated, childhood schizophrenia can seriously impair the child’s functioning in every area. While children are more difficult to treat and prognosis is not as good as that of adult-onset schizophrenia, there are options available. Antipsychotic drugs combined with different types of psychotherapy, social skills training and school assistance appears to be the most effective. If a child you know might have schizophrenia, it’s important to seek help from knowledgeable professionals as soon as possible.