Schizophrenia In Your Child - What You Must Know
Created by Dr Shipra Mathur Updated on May 02, 2021
Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that affects thinking, behaviour and emotions. It is a psychotic condition in which there is abnormal understanding of reality. People with schizophrenia often experience hallucinations and/or delusions. Thinking and behaviour are severely affected, all of which can impair the person’s ability to function normally. Schizophrenia is very uncommon in children and even early onset schizophrenia would usually be reliably diagnosed from 13 years of age onwards. The condition is basically same as in adults with the added effects on child’s development and learning skills.
As you may well understand, it can be very challenging to diagnose and treat schizophrenia in children.
Causes Of Schizophrenia
It's not known what exactly causes childhood schizophrenia . A combination of genetics, brain chemistry and environment contributes to development of the disorder. Certain factors though seem to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia such as
- Having a family history of schizophrenia
- Older age of the father
- Some pregnancy and birth complications, exposure to toxins or viruses may also impact brain development
Symptoms Of Schizophrenia
In young children, there may be
- Language delay
- Late or unusual crawling, walking
- Abnormal motor behaviours — for example, rocking or arm flapping
Similar symptoms are seen in other behavioural disorders like autism more commonly and therefore a careful evaluation would usually be done to exclude them first. In teenagers, early symptoms may get mistaken for ‘typical teenage behaviour” and include-
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- A drop in performance at school
- Trouble sleeping
- Irritability or depressed mood
- Lack of motivation
- Strange behaviour
- Substance use
Symptoms may come and go making it difficult to recognize the condition in the early phases. When childhood schizophrenia begins early in life, symptoms may build up gradually to become more severe and noticeable with time.
Eventually, the child may develop symptoms of psychosis like-
- delusions and
- difficulty organizing thoughts resulting in disorganised speech and behaviour
These will cause symptoms such as - excessive suspicion of others, inappropriate show of emotions and responses or complete lack of them, bizarre behaviour and rituals, assuming dreams to be real, aggression etc. Sometimes the psychotic episodes may be severe enough to require medicinal treatment and hospitalisation.
Schizophrenia is a chronic condition that requires life-long treatment. Left untreated, it can result in severe emotional, behavioural and health problems including suicidal thoughts, drug abuse etc. Identifying and starting treatment for childhood schizophrenia as early as possible may limit psychotic episodes and improve long-term outcome.
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