What is Childhood Schizophrenia?
Childhood schizophrenia is a mental disorder in which a child’s brain experiences perceptions that are not based in reality. Schizophrenia more often develops in adulthood and is rarely seen in children. It can be more difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in children because the symptoms may be confused with developmental issues or simply an active imagination. The disorder continues into adulthood and does not have a cure.
The symptoms of childhood schizophrenia can start to appear around age six, but they accumulate and worsen slowly over time and may not be completely noticeable until the teen years. A child may start appearing nervous or tense and begin withdrawing from other people. He or she may either display no emotion at times or else act in an inappropriate way for the occasion, such as inexplicably laughing during a sad moment. A child may also start enacting specific rituals during eating and become upset if he or she cannot practice them. As the disorder starts to make his or her thoughts disorganized, a child may stop practicing hygiene.
Once childhood schizophrenia worsens, the symptoms typically become much more noticeable. A child may begin experiencing false perceptions, such as seeing things that are not actually present or hearing thoughts inside his or her head. When the perceptions intertwine with normal thoughts and perceptions, a child can become extremely confused on what is actually reality and become scared, angry, or anxious.
Childhood schizophrenia does not have a proven cause and it is not conclusively known why some people develop the disorder so much earlier in life than others. The disorder is thought to be possibly due to a type of abnormality in brain function that causes the brain to perceive things that do not actually exist; however, it has not been proven what could make the brain malfunction. Children who have relatives with schizophrenia may be at a higher risk of developing the disorder as well, so genetics may be a factor.
A psychiatrist will typically observe a child for at least six months to ensure that the behaviors do not subside and to determine if the symptoms are indicative of another mental condition besides schizophrenia. Although schizophrenia cannot be cured, the symptoms can be treated with antipsychotic medications that will alter the brain chemicals causing false perceptions. A child with the disorder may have to go through more treatment than an adult to deal with the symptoms since he or she is also going through the stages of development while managing the disorder. The disorder can prevent a child from focusing in school and can affect his or her ability to learn socializing skills. If childhood schizophrenia is not treated, it can result in a child not being able to function at his or her age level.
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