Childhood onset schizophrenia is an uncommon but serious mental health problem. Children with the disorder may experience a wide range of symptoms and issues, including hallucinations, behavioral problems, and an inability to accomplish basic daily tasks. Doctors are unsure of the exact causes of childhood onset schizophrenia, but it is suspected that both genetics and environmental factors are responsible for its development. The condition cannot be cured, but medications and regular psychotherapy sessions can help most patients learn how to manage their symptoms and become productive, happy members of society.
Despite several decades of research, it is still not clear why childhood onset schizophrenia develops. Most studies suggest that the problem is related to physical or chemical defects in the brain, namely abnormal functioning of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. Most patients appear to be genetically predisposed to the condition, as they often have close relatives who suffer from mental disorders. Viral infections or trauma to a fetus in the womb often precedes schizophrenia. Some children also seem to develop the disorder after experiencing extreme stress or physical abuse as infants.
Symptoms of childhood onset schizophrenia typically begin to develop around the age of eight, though they may not appear until a child is about 11 or 12. In most cases, signs appear gradually over time. Parents and teachers may first notice dropping school performance, concentration issues, and irritability. As behavioral problems worsen, a child might show inappropriate emotions or withdraw from loved ones. Hallucinations, delusions, and incoherent speaking are typically signs of advanced schizophrenia.
Ideally, a child should be brought to a doctor as soon as any mental health problems are noticed. A physician can screen for medical disorders, such as epilepsy, illness, or substance abuse that might be causing symptoms. If no clear medical problem exists, a consultation can be set up with a mental health professional. A psychologist or psychiatrist can evaluate the patient's condition and make a diagnosis based on well-established criteria.
Childhood onset schizophrenia is a lifelong disorder, but children can overcome many obstacles with the proper support from a dedicated team of professionals. Physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and case workers can develop a multifaceted approach to treatment. Anti-psychotic medications help to stabilize chemical activity in the brain. Psychotherapy and family counseling sessions are important to help children and their loved ones better understand schizophrenia and learn how to best deal with issues during bad episodes. Patients who follow their health-care team's instructions are usually able to keep attending school and eventually become self-sufficient.