Schizophrenia in Children

What is schizophrenia in children?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental
illness. It is a long-lasting and disabling problem of the brain. A child with this
disorder has unusual behavior and strange feelings. He or she may suddenly start to have
psychotic symptoms. Psychotic means having strange ideas, thoughts, or feelings that are
not based in reality.

Schizophrenia is not often found in children younger than age 12.
It’s also hard to spot in the early stages. Often, the psychotic symptoms start in the
middle to late teen years. Slightly more boys develop it in childhood. But by the teen
years it affects both boys and girls equally.

What causes schizophrenia in a child?

Schizophrenia has no single cause. A combination of genes from both parents plays a role. So do unknown environmental factors. Experts believe that a child has to inherit a chemical imbalance in the brain to develop it.

Which children are at risk for schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia tends to run in families. A child who has a family member with the disorder has a greater chance of developing it.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia in a child?

Behavior changes may occur slowly, over time. Or they may start suddenly. The child may slowly become more shy and withdrawn. He or she may start to talk about odd ideas or fears and start to cling more to parents.

Each child’s symptoms may vary. Early warning signs are:

  • Trouble telling dreams from reality (distorted view of reality)
  • Confused thinking, such as confusing TV with reality
  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas
  • Fear or belief that someone or something is going to harm him or her
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real, such as hearing voices (hallucinations)
  • Ideas that seem real but are not based in reality (delusions)
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Lots of anxiety or fear
  • Lack of emotional expression when speaking
  • Trouble doing schoolwork or a drop in levels of school success
  • Social withdrawal, such as having problems making and keeping friends
  • Sudden agitation and confusion
  • Disorganized behavior, such as doing private things in public. Or catatonic behavior, such as sitting and staring, as if the child can’t move.
  • Odd behaviors, such as an older child acting like he or she is much younger

Children with schizophrenia have the same symptoms as adults with the condition. But more children hear voices. Children also don’t tend to have delusions or formal thought problems until they are in their teens or older.

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed in a child?

A child with symptoms of
schizophrenia needs a thorough medical and mental health evaluation. Talk with your
child’s healthcare provider if you are concerned about symptoms your child is having. A
child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health expert can diagnose schizophrenia in
children and teens. He or she does a mental health evaluation to figure out how best to
treat the child.