Childhood Schizophrenia

1 What is Childhood Schizophrenia?

Childhood schizophrenia is a rare psychotic disorder characterized by strange emotions, perceptions and behaviors in childhood.

Hallucinations, delusions and bizarre behavior are common in schizophrenia.

The symptoms of this disorder appear before 13 years and is found in both boys and girls. The symptoms of the disorder affect the social behavior and performance of the child. It has many challenges in diagnosis, treatment, and development of affected children.

Early diagnosis and treatment of the disorder is important in controlling the symptoms.

This disorder requires life-long treatment in the form of medications or individual therapy.

2 Symptoms

Psychosis, or loss of contact with reality, is the most characteristic symptom of childhood schizophrenia. Different symptoms of this disorder appear in phases.

In the earliest phase of the disorder, developmental issues like language delays and issues related to motor development are common. The child may have strange crawling techniques, or may be late in walking. Some children show abnormal movements like rocking or flapping of arms. Some of these symptoms resemble that of other developmental disorders like autism. Hence, differential diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia is very important.

Symptoms of this disorder in teenagers are similar to that of adult schizophrenia.

Some common symptoms during this phase are:

  • Moody nature
  • Bad performance at school
  • Difficulty in sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Strange behavior
  • Lack motivation

Teenagers with schizophrenia tend to have more of visual hallucinations than delusions.

With age, typical symptoms of the disorder start its appearance. This includes:

  • Delusions – these are bizarre thoughts and ideas that are not based on reality.
  • Hallucinations – children may see or hear things that does not exist.
  • Disorganized speech – they fail to communicate effectively as their thought process and speech are disorganized. In some rare cases, children with this disorder may put together some meaningless words in the form of a speech.
  • Abnormal motor development – strange posture, lack of response, or excessive movement are characteristic of schizophrenia.

With disease progression, they have reduced ability to function and respond appropriately. They refuse to make eye contact, and do not have any specific expression. They tend to stay aloof and neglect personal hygiene completely.
In most of the cases the early symptoms are either ignored considering them as a part of development or not recognized at all. Symptoms become more apparent with age.

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3 Causes

No definite single cause is known for childhood schizophrenia.

Both genetic and environmental factors are thought to influence the development of childhood schizophrenia.

Abnormal development or functioning of neurotransmitters are considered to be the cause of this psychotic disorder.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Physical and psychological screenings are used to diagnose childhood schizophrenia. Blood tests help to rule out chances of other diseases and disorders that have similar symptoms. Imaging techniques are used to check the abnormalities in brain structure. Brain function is assessed with the help of electroencephalogram.

Psychological evaluation helps to assess the child’s behavior and thought process. This also helps to differentiate other disorders like bipolar disorder or depression, which may have similar symptoms. Medications are started at an early stage, particularly if there are symptoms of self-hurting behavior.

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by American Psychiatric Association provides the criteria for the diagnosis of this psychotic disorder.

As per the criteria, the child must have two or more of the following signs for more than a month for confirmatory diagnosis:

These symptoms tend to affect their performance at school or work.

5 Treatment

Children with childhood schizophrenia may require life-long treatment. A team of experts including psychiatrist, pediatrician, social worker, and nurse works in collaboration with family members to provide the best possible treatment to control the symptoms. Medications, family therapy, and social training are the major treatment methods opted for this disorder.

Antipsychotic medications are used to control symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and lack of emotion. Anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications are also used in alleviating the symptoms.

Psychotherapy include individual therapy and family therapy. Individual therapy helps to understand the condition and deal with the stress. It also helps to be compliant with the treatment plan and cope with the condition. Family therapy helps to provide support and education to the family members of the affected child. It helps to improve communication with the members and also to cope with the condition.

Social skills training is important for the child to have normal relationships in the school and community. It also helps the child to focus on personal hygiene which they normally neglect. When the symptoms become very severe hospitalization may be needed. This will help to control the symptoms soon.

6 Prevention

It is not possible to prevent childhood schizophrenia, but early diagnosis and treatment of the condition in the children can prevent complications.

It will also help to control the number of psychotic episodes.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

A few alternative and homeopathic remedies exist for managing the symptoms of childhood schizophrenia.

Hyoscyamus niger, Platinum metallicum, Phosphorus and Lachesis helps in controlling delusion, while Anacardium Orientale is used to control auditory hallucinations.

Cannabis Indica and Stramonium controls disorganized speech.

Nutrition, thyroid therapies, and supplements are also tried to control the disease.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with childhood schizophrenia.

Family plays an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of this disorder.

Identifying the warning signs is very important in controlling symptoms. Being compliant with medications help in successful control of symptoms.

Family support can also help in controlling substance abuse and other complications.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with childhood schizophrenia.

Childhood schizophrenia may lead to severe behavioral and emotional problems, if left untreated.

Some of the complications include:

  • Keeping aloof from family and friends
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and phobia
  • Trouble in relationships
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-injury
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