10 Quick Facts about Childhood Schizophrenia
The precise cause of childhood schizophrenia is not known. As with adult schizophrenia there is an assumed relationship between genetic factors the environment. Possible causes include family history, birth trauma, exposure to viruses in the womb or parents being older.
Schizophrenia in children is essentially no different to adult schizophrenia but diagnosis at an early age is difficult. Natural development can include fantasy and even hearing voices, so clinicians tend to be cautious in making a diagnosis too early.
Only with the benefit of hindsight do parents realize that the signs were evident. Inappropriate emotional responses, problems with making friends, getting into fights and ritualistic behaviors are just some of the characteristics.
Of course if the signs are attributed to a six or seven year old it is hardly surprising that these are commonly considered issues of development rather than signs of a serious mental illness. In time the child may show signs of thought disorder, hallucinations, delusions and disruption in daily living skills.
Teen years are difficult enough without the added burden of schizophrenia. For this reason it is vital that treatment is sought as early as possible. Left untreated normal development will suffer, school performance will diminish, anti-social activities may increase, depression and suicidal thoughts and behavior may become evident.
Diagnosis will start with physical examinations and laboratory tests in order to rule out conditions that may mimic the signs of schizophrenia. Psychological interviews will follow.
Childhood diagnosis is rare. It is not easy to diagnose and it is not uncommon for children and young people to remain under observation with no diagnosis or a provisional diagnosis until a point is reached where the signs and symptoms become consistent and evident.
Treatments include medications such as Risperidone (Risperidol) or Aripiprazole (Ablify) are commonly prescribed. Psychotherapy can help the young person to develop resilience in order to cope better with what life will throw their way. Depending on the availability of local resources, family therapy and/or social and educational skills may also be offered.
Early treatment is better as it seems to prevent serious complications.
Caregivers need to support the treatment plan and be consistent in their emotional and practical support. There are usually local support groups for caregivers but increasingly people make use of online forums as a way to seek and offer support.