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When Schizophrenia Occurs In Childhood

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The Precise Cause Of Childhood Schizophrenia Is Not Known

Childhood Schizophrenia: What Are the First Signs?

There is no known, exact cause for childhood schizophrenia according to Boston Childrens Hospital. It is thought to be linked to genetics, with a child having a 10 to 15 percent chance of developing schizophrenia if a parent has it. This significantly increases if more than one family member has schizophrenia. It may also be linked to a number of environmental factors during pregnancy, such as exposure to certain viruses, drug or alcohol use, extreme stress, and exposure to certain chemicals.

How Is Childhood Schizophrenia Diagnosed

Schizophrenia in children is difficult to diagnose. Many healthy, nonpsychotic children have hallucinations or delusions. For example, a young child may talk to an imaginary friend.

Also, other psychiatric illnesses can cause symptoms that may be mistaken for schizophrenia. These conditions include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder , major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder.

No one test can tell whether a child has schizophrenia. To make a diagnosis, a doctor must rule out other diseases or conditions, and consider other psychiatric illnesses, developmental disorders or drug toxicity.

Doctors diagnose childhood schizophrenia with a combination of mental and physical tests. To check for physical causes, your doctor may use:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging : This test uses radio waves and strong magnetic fields to help doctors see whether there are any abnormalities in the brain.
  • Positron emission tomography and single photon emission computed tomography : A radioactive chemical called a tracer is injected into the bloodstream to allow the doctor to see blood flow in the brain.

What Causes Childhood Schizophrenia

The exact causes of childhood schizophrenia are unknown. Schizophrenia tends to be hereditary . Researchers have also found some other factors that may play a role in developing schizophrenia, including:

  • Complications during birth
  • Maternal malnutrition
  • Mother is exposed to certain viruses while pregnant

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What Is Childhood Schizophrenia

Childhood schizophrenia is a mental illness that affects children under the age of 13. It is also known as early-onset schizophrenia. Childhood schizophrenia is rare, and affects an estimated 0.4 percent of children.

Childhood schizophrenia may be hard to diagnose, especially in young children, because the symptoms are similar to those of other mental health conditions. These children may have other behavioral problems and difficulties with daily living.

Risk Factors May Offer Early Clues To Severe Mental Illness

Childhood Schizophrenia Facts

Experts are trying to find better ways to recognize the early signs of schizophrenia, Duckworth says. A major study funded by NIMH, called North American Prodrome Longitudinal Study , is underway to try to identify youth at risk for developing psychosis and understand the risk factors and symptoms that may precipitate psychosis.

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How Do We Diagnose Schizophrenia

A mental health clinician will make the diagnosis following a comprehensive evaluation with you and your child. During the assessment, well ask you to describe your childs symptoms and provide an overview of your childs family history, medical history, school life, and social interactions.

Typically, a child is diagnosed with schizophrenia if he or she:

  • displays positive or negative symptoms for a period of at least one month
  • is experiencing a worsening decrease in the ability to function on a day-to-day basis

Early Warning Signs Of Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia can be hard to diagnose for a few reasons. One is that people with the disorder often don’t realize they’re ill, so they’re unlikely to go to a doctor for help.Another issue is that many of the changes leading up to schizophrenia, called the prodrome, can mirror other normal life changes. For example, a teen who’s developing the illness might drop their group of friends and take up with new ones. They may also have trouble sleeping or suddenly start coming home with poor grades.

Some research suggests that if a doctor strongly thinks someone is getting the disorder while still in this early phase, low doses of antipsychotic medication might delay it. More studies need to be done to know whether these drugs work for young people at risk for the disease. Cognitive behavioral therapy, family therapy, and social skills training appear to have clearer benefits for them, at least in the short term, when used early on. Learn more about the prodrome phase of schizophrenia.

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Preparing For An Appointment

You’re likely to start by first having your child see his or her pediatrician or family doctor. In some cases, you may be referred immediately to a specialist, such as a pediatric psychiatrist or other mental health professional who’s an expert in schizophrenia.

In rare cases where safety is an issue, your child may require an emergency evaluation in the emergency room and possibly a hospital specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry.

Who Is Affected By Schizophrenia

Inside the World of Childhood Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under the age of 12 and hard to identify in the early phases. A sudden onset of the psychotic symptoms of schizophrenia frequently occurs in middle to late adolescence. Statistics indicate that schizophrenia affects approximately 1% of Americans. A child born into a family with 1 or more family members affected by schizophrenia has a greater chance of developing schizophrenia than a child born into a family with no history of schizophrenia.

After a person has been diagnosed with schizophrenia in a family, the chance for a sibling to also be diagnosed with schizophrenia is 10%. If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10%. Risks increase with multiple affected family members.

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The Timing Of Schizophrenia Disease Onset

Schizophrenia is particularly devastating because it often occurs at a key time of life when adolescents or young adults are honing their identities and making decisions about careers, education, and relationships, Dr. Duckworth says.

That is one of the great challenges. Schizophrenia attacks cognition, emotion, and behavior while they are trying to establish their own identity, he says.

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Other Medications And Supplements

The combined use of antidepressants plus demonstrates improved effectiveness when compared to antidepressants alone, but these effects may not endure. The addition of a benzodiazepine is balanced against possible harms and other alternative treatment strategies when antidepressant mono-therapy is considered inadequate.

There is insufficient high quality evidence to suggest are effective in depression. There is limited evidence that vitamin D supplementation is of value in alleviating the symptoms of depression in individuals who are vitamin D-deficient. There is some preliminary evidence that , such as , have a beneficial effect on major depression. appears effective at lowering the risk of suicide in those with bipolar disorder and unipolar depression to nearly the same levels as the general population. There is a narrow range of effective and safe dosages of lithium thus close monitoring may be needed. Low-dose may be added to existing antidepressants to treat persistent depression symptoms in people who have tried multiple courses of medication. Limited evidence suggests , such as and , may be effective in the short term, or as . Also, it is suggested that supplements may have a role in depression management. There is tentative evidence for benefit from in males.

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Getting Young People Into Treatment

According to the Child Mind Institute, about 100,000 teens or young adults in the United States experience a first episode of psychosis each year. The whole idea in the field is to figure out how to intervene earlier, says Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness and an assistant clinical professor at Harvard University Medical School in Boston. Finding a way to get a younger person into treatment is important because the sooner they get into care, the better their outcomes is likely to be.

Possible Early Symptoms In Adolescents And Teens

Childhood Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Causes &  Treatment
  • Blank affect
  • Awkward, contorted, or unusual movements of the face, limbs, or body
  • Suspicions of threats, plots, or conspiracies
  • Dwelling excessively on failures, perceived slights, or past disappointments
  • Unprovoked or disproportionate irritability or angry outbursts that are extreme
  • Unwarranted resentment and accusations against others that is extreme
  • Difficulty following a single train of thought
  • Inability to read and respond appropriately to other people’s nonverbal cues
  • Inappropriate behavior and responses to social situations
  • Incoherent speech
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations
  • Sudden, painful sensitivity to light and noise
  • Sudden, significant changes in sleep patterns, such as the inability to fall or stay asleep , or excessive sleepiness and listlessness
  • Talking aloud to themselves, often repeating or rehearsing conversations with others
  • Tendency to rapidly shift topics during a single conversation
  • Using nonsense or made-up words
  • Withdrawal from friendships, family, and activities

Adolescents and teens with childhood schizophrenia may also experience irrational thinking, including:

  • Assigning a special meaning to events and objects with no personal significance
  • Assumption of extravagant religious, political or other authority
  • Believing that another person or entity is controlling their body, thoughts, or movements
  • Believing that an evil force, spirit or entity has possessed their body or mind

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Disorganized Or Catatonic Behaviors

This refers to impaired behaviors that drastically impact a person’s daily functions and activities.

For example:

  • Engaging in inappropriate activities or speech
  • Extreme moodiness and irritability
  • Wearing clothing that is inappropriate for the weathersuch as a winter coat in summer heat
  • Lack of or inappropriate habits personal hygiene habits, such as not bathing or not brushing their teeth
  • Catatonic state

Complications Exposures Or Stressors In The Womb

Though it hasn’t been proven conclusively, stressors in the womb to parent or fetus have been linked to childhood schizophrenia. These can include:

  • Maternal malnutrition
  • Maternal drug or alcohol use
  • Exposure to certain hormonal or chemical agents
  • Exposure to certain viruses or infections
  • Extreme stress

Some other environmental factors that have been linked to the development of schizophrenia include:

  • The use of psychoactive drugs during teen years
  • Regular use of cannabis before adulthood
  • Childhood neglect or mistreatment .

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When To See A Healthcare Provider

As schizophrenia usually develops gradually, it can be difficult to pinpoint when changes in behavior start or know whether they are something to worry about. Identifying that you are experiencing a pattern of concerning behaviors can be a sign you should consult with a professional.

Symptoms may intensify in the run-up to an acute episode of psychosis in schizophrenia. The warning signs include:

  • A worrying drop in grades or job performance
  • New difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Suspiciousness of or uneasiness with others
  • Withdrawing socially, spending a lot more time alone than usual
  • Unusual, overly intense new ideas, strange feelings, or having no feelings at all
  • Difficulty telling reality from fantasy
  • Confused speech or trouble communicating

While these changes might not be concerning by themselves, if you or a loved one are experiencing a number of these symptoms, you should contact a mental health professional. It can be difficult for those with schizophrenia to want to get help, especially if they are experiencing symptoms such as paranoia.

If you or your loved one is thinking of or talking about harming themselves, contact someone who can help right away. You can call the toll-free, 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-237-8255.

If you require immediate emergency care, call 911 for emergency services or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Diagnosis Of Schizophrenia In Younger Individuals

Childhood Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia should be diagnosed by a doctor. According to the NLM, Medicine can help control many of the symptoms of this disorder, although there is no cure. Unfortunately, it can be extremely hard to diagnose the disorder in children and teenagers because the signs are not always as clear as those exhibited by adults. For example, younger individuals are more likely to experience visual hallucinations as opposed to auditory ones. Delusions are also a symptom that doesnt occur in younger children but can begin to occur in older ones.

Depression, irritability, and apathy are all signs of schizophrenia in teenagers. However, many individuals at this age experience symptoms such as these without the presence of the disorder. Because schizophrenia is an extremely intense and involved disorder, doctors are hesitant to diagnose someone with it based on these symptoms alone. In some cases, schizophrenia occurs at a young age and goes undiagnosed and untreated until the individual gets older.

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Understanding Prodrome Syndrome A Precursor To Schizophrenia

The prodromal syndrome is essentially a syndrome that leads up to the full-blown psychosis, says Nitin Gogtay, MD, director of the Office of Clinical Research at the National Institute of Mental Health . Its a precursor. It doesnt always go to full-blown schizophrenia, but it consists of early signs and symptoms that could potentially lead to schizophrenia.

While early diagnosis is preferable, doctors must be careful about making a diagnosis of schizophrenia too soon, Dr. Gogtay says.

First Episode Of Psychosis

The first episode of psychosis refers to when you first show signs of being unable to distinguish whats real from what isnt. It typically involves hallucinations and delusions, which can seem very real to the person experiencing them.

Experts say the average age at which people first experience psychosis is 24 years old. The oldest age of onset was 63 years and the youngest age was 3 years.

Acting quickly to connect yourself or your loved one with the right treatment during early psychosis can help dramatically. If you are a family member or friend, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional on behalf of the person you care about.

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Questions For My Childs Mental Health Professional

  • What other health conditions could be causing these symptoms?
  • Does my child need a higher level of care?
  • What are the risks and benefits of the medications prescribed for my child?
  • What side effects should we expect with these medications?
  • What changes should we make to our routines and behaviors as a family?
  • How do I know when to seek emergency care for my child?
  • What do I do if my child has a hallucination?
  • What do we do if we think a dose is too high or too low?
  • Which symptoms usually get better and which ones dont?
  • How will these medications affect my childs ability to function in school?
  • Should I share this with my childs teachers and others, like their coaches? If so, how?
  • What foods should we eliminate from my childs diet?

more likely to develop the disorder than the general population.

Some environmental conditions can also raise the risk, such as:

  • exposure to marijuana during pregnancy
  • malnutrition during pregnancy
  • fathers who are much older
  • using psychoactive or mind-altering medications during the teen years
  • an overactive immune system caused by systemic inflammation and other stress

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that living in poverty, under long-term stress, or in dangerous environments can also raise your risk.

No matter which risk factors are present in your childs life, try not to blame yourself. Self-care and compassion will be important as you accompany your child on this journey.

What Causes Schizophrenia

Identifying Schizophrenia in Children

There is no known single cause responsible for schizophrenia. It is believed that a chemical imbalance in the brain is an inherited factor that is necessary for schizophrenia to develop. However, it is likely that many factors ? genetic, behavioral, and environmental ? play a role in the development of this condition.

Schizophrenia is considered to be multifactorially inherited. Multifactorial inheritance means that “many factors” are involved. The factors are usually both genetic and environmental, where a combination of genes from both parents, in addition to unknown environmental factors, produce the trait or condition. Often, one gender is affected more frequently than the other in multifactorial traits. There appears to be a different threshold of expression, which means that one gender is more likely to show the problem, over the other gender. Slightly more males develop schizophrenia in childhood however, by adolescence, schizophrenia affects males and females equally.

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Is My Child Schizophrenic

If you notice that your child

  • Is developing much slower than other children their age
  • Exhibits strange behavior
  • Has become isolated from other children or has extreme difficulty socializing
  • Exhibits delusions, paranoia, or violent tendencies
  • Has begun speaking in a way that does not make sense

you should seek medical attention. In many cases, it can be truly difficult to determine whether a child has schizophrenia or if they may have another disorder such as an autism spectrum disorder. In addition, some children may just be experiencing a difficult time in their lives, resulting in certain behaviors. However, schizophrenia in children is possible, and signs and symptoms like these should be diagnosed by a professional clinician. For help finding childrens mental health treatment call toll free anytime.

What Are Positive Negative And Cognitive Symptoms Of Schizophrenia

During the acute phase of schizophrenia, children may show symptoms called positive, negative, and cognitive symptoms.

Positive symptoms are psychotic behaviors. During psychosis, a person is not connected with reality. Positive symptoms may include:

  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Movement disorders
  • Thought disorders

Negative symptoms of childhood schizophrenia disrupt normal behaviors or emotions. Negative symptoms may include:

  • Speaking infrequently or not at all
  • Limited or no display of emotions
  • Feeling no pleasure in everyday life
  • Problems with starting or finishing activities
  • Isolation

Cognitive symptoms of childhood schizophrenia reflect changes in thinking or memory. These symptoms may include:

  • Being unable to understand information and make decisions
  • Poor attention span
  • Trouble focusing on a task

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Parkinson’s Disease And Lewy Body Dementia

is linked with for their similar hallucinatory symptoms. The symptoms strike during the evening in any part of the visual field, and are rarely polymodal. The segue into hallucination may begin with illusions where sensory perception is greatly distorted, but no novel sensory information is present. These typically last for several minutes, during which time the subject may be either conscious and normal or drowsy/inaccessible. Insight into these hallucinations is usually preserved and is usually reduced. Parkinson’s disease is usually associated with a degraded pars compacta, but recent evidence suggests that PD affects a number of sites in the brain. Some places of noted degradation include the median , the parts of the , and the neurons in the and nuclei of the .

This type of hallucination is usually experienced during the recovery from a comatose state. The migraine coma can last for up to two days, and a state of depression is sometimes . The hallucinations occur during states of full consciousness, and insight into the hallucinatory nature of the images is preserved. It has been noted that ataxic lesions accompany the migraine coma.

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