Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder. This brain disorder is chronic and disabling and is often quite severe. Although schizophrenia frequently begins during adulthood, it can be found in children as well. Symptoms are generally the same regardless of age.
Diagnosis of Childhood Schizophrenia
There are a few common steps towards diagnosing schizophrenia. Initially, if a doctor suspects that the child might be suffering from schizophrenia, he or she will generally start by performing various psychological tests, evaluations, and/or exams. Such exams and tests can help to make an accurate diagnosis and rule out additional problems that may be causing similar symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms that are associated with this illness include:
- Disorganized speech
- Inability to complete tasks
Hallucinations frequently involve hearing negative or threatening voices. A delusional child may believe that he or she is being watched, plotted against or harassed. Another symptom, disorganized speech, is an inability to stay on topic and having trouble maintaining a conversation. Disorganized behavior, which may include bizarre behaviors or actions and trouble planning events or completing them, may also be present.
Many times, there will be a physical exam, laboratory tests, and a psychological evaluation. During the physical exam the doctor will check vital signs, listen to the child’s lungs and heart, and check the child’s blood pressure and temperature. There are a number of laboratory tests that may be done, such as a complete blood count (CBC), a screening for drugs or alcohol and thyroid function. The physician will likely perform a mental health evaluation and discuss any symptoms and when they were first noticed. The physician may also request school records for review and ask the child to complete psychological questionnaires.
The diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia is generally prolonged. One main reason is because some of the symptoms that are associated with schizophrenia are present in other mental disorders as well, especially depression, bipolar disorder and even substance abuse. Some developmental disorders, such as Asperger’s disorder, also need to be ruled out, as they share symptoms consistent with schizophrenia, including disorganized behavior, social difficulties and language impairments.
One helpful resource for families who need more information is mentalhealth.gov.
Prevention of Childhood Schizophrenia
There are no ways to prevent childhood schizophrenia to date. However, certain signs and symptoms of the disease can show up as early as infancy. In these cases, early identification and treatment may help to better control symptoms and keep serious complications from arising. Getting treatment as soon as possible is essential for the best long-term outlook.
One benefit of early treatment in children is that it can help to keep potentially frightening psychotic episodes to a minimum. Not only should treatment be started as soon as possible, but it needs to be continued throughout the child’s life. Some of the signs and symptoms of the illness include early delays in motor development and language delays and issues at school. Such signs and symptoms generally warrant further evaluation.
Treatment of Childhood Schizophrenia
Treatment for this illness encompasses educational, biological and social interventions. Many times, a skilled psychiatrist will oversee the treatment. However, a treatment team is generally assembled since schizophrenia affects so many aspects of a child’s life. The treatment team will work together to ensure that all areas of the child’s life are appropriately covered and monitored. Team members tend to consist of a pediatrician, psychotherapist, psychiatrist, case worker, pharmacist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, social worker and family members.
The primary form of treatment for children is antipsychotic medication. Many of the medications are used to treat children and adults alike. Parents should be aware of the potential risks and serious side effects that are associated with these medications. Other forms of treatment include individual and family psychotherapy and training in social skills and academic skills. In some instances, hospitalization may be required.
Families who need additional schizophrenia resources can look to websites such as Schiz Life, which emphasizes living a full life with the illness. Another resource is the National Institute of Mental Health, a website with detailed information about the illness.