In children, schizophrenia tends to be harder to treat than adult-onset schizophrenia; it also has a worse prognosis. However, researchers are finding that many individuals with this condition in childhood can be helped by the new generation of antipsychotic medications.
A child's stage of development must be taken into account when considering a diagnosis of mental illness. Behaviors that are normal at one age may not be at another. Rarely, a healthy young child may report strange experiences -- such as hearing voices -- that would be considered abnormal at a later age. Clinicians look for a more persistent pattern of such behaviors before making a diagnosis. Parents may have reason for concern if a child over seven years of age often:
- Hears voices saying derogatory things about him or her
- Hears voices conversing with one another
- Talks to himself or herself
- Stares at scary things -- snakes, spiders, shadows -- that are not really there
- Shows no interest in friendships.
Such behaviors could be signs of schizophrenia, a chronic and disabling form of mental illness.
Fortunately, childhood schizophrenia is rare, affecting only about 1 in 40,000 children, compared to 1 in 100 in adults. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Ranking among the top 10 causes of disability worldwide, schizophrenia, at any age, exacts a heavy toll on patients and their families.
Children with schizophrenia experience difficulty in managing everyday life. Like their adult counterparts, children with schizophrenia experience:
- Psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, delusions)
- Social withdrawal
- Subdued emotions
- Increased risk of suicide
- Loss of social and personal care skills.
They may also share some symptoms with -- and be mistaken for -- children who suffer from autism or other pervasive developmental disabilities, which affect about 1 in 500 children.
Children with schizophrenia tend to be harder to treat and have a worse prognosis than adult-onset schizophrenia patients. However, researchers are finding that many children with the disorder can be helped by the new generation of antipsychotic medications.