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Childhood schizophrenia is a very rare illness among children in the general population. And even among children with mental illness, only about two in every 1,000 have childhood schizophrenia.
Johns Hopkins Family Health Book
Childhood Schizophrenia Schizophrenia is a mental illness characterized by disorders that last longer than six months and affect perception, thought, behavior and communication. It can cause hallucinations (false sensations), delusions (false beliefs) and severe problems in speech and behavior. The cause of schizophrenia is not completely understood; genetic factors may play a role. When schizophrenia affects a child younger than 15-years-old, it is called "childhood" schizophrenia.
Childhood schizophrenia is a very rare illness among children in the general population. And even among children with mental illness, only about two in every 1,000 have childhood schizophrenia. At one time, experts thought that infantile autism and childhood schizophrenia were two forms of the same illness, but now they know that this is not so. Autism and childhood schizophrenia are two different illnesses, although both seem to happen for unknown reasons.
About one in three children originally diagnosed with childhood schizophrenia is actually found to be suffering from an affective disorder (a mood disorder, like depression) when re-evaluated as an adult.
What To Look For Children who suffer from childhood schizophrenia begin to have symptoms before they are 15-years-old. Symptoms last for at least six months, and they seriously interfere with the child's functioning in school, at home or in social situations.
Some of the key symptoms of childhood schizophrenia include:
- Hallucinations--sensations that are not real, like hearing the voice of someone who is not there
- Delusions--false beliefs, like believing that creatures from outer space are following you
- Disorganized speech--being incoherent or always straying off the subject
- Disorganized or abnormal behavior, like sitting absolutely still for hours in the same position or repeating the same series of movements over and over again
- Flat affect--showing absolutely no emotion
- Alogia--not speaking or speaking very rarely
- Avolition--not being able to start or to keep doing a task or job
Whenever a child has any of these symptoms, his doctor must always exclude other problems or illnesses that might cause him to act in the same way. These include other types of psychiatric illness, such as anxiety disorders or mood disorders (like depression). Other types of medical illness can also cause these symptoms, including encephalitis, brain tumor, thyroid disease, abnormal blood levels of copper (Wilson's Disease) and others. Even substance abuse can cause symptoms similar to that of childhood schizophrenia, especially if the child is using cocaine, LSD or PCP.
What To Do? A child with symptoms of childhood schizophrenia needs to be evaluated by a doctor, usually a psychiatrist. So far, there is no blood test or brain scan to confirm that a child has childhood schizophrenia. But there are many different types of medical tests to exclude other illnesses that cause similar symptoms, such as substance abuse, thyroid disease, brain tumor, etc.
Children with childhood schizophrenia are treated with antipsychotic medications--medicines like chlorpromazine that are used to treat psychoses, severe forms of mental illness. Having the support of a caring family is also very important in helping them to get well.
Call Your Doctor If... Your child begins to have hallucinations or delusions. Remember that it is fine for children to imagine and pretend, but that these activities are different from hallucinations and delusions, which usually interfere with a child's ability to function normally at home, school or elsewhere.
Also call your doctor if your child is showing any type of unusual speech or behavior that interferes with her ability to function at home, at school or at play.
Last updated July 24, 2000