Schizophrenia in Children - Health Encyclopedia (2023)

What is schizophrenia in children?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. It's a long-lasting and disabling problem of the brain. It can be treated, but right now there is no cure. A child with this disorder has unusual behavior and strange feelings. They may suddenly start to have psychotic symptoms. Experiencing psychosis means having strange ideas, thoughts, or feelings that are not based in reality.

Schizophrenia is not often found in children younger than age 12. It's also hard to spot in the early stages. Often, the psychotic symptoms start in the middle to late teen years. Slightly more boys develop it in childhood. But by the teen years it affects both boys and girls equally.

What causes schizophrenia in a child?

Schizophrenia has no single cause. A combination of genes from both parents plays a role. So do unknown environmental factors. Experts believe that a child has to inherit a chemical imbalance in the brain to develop it.

Which children are at risk for schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia tends to run in families. A child who has a family member with the disorder has a greater chance of developing it.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia in a child?

Behavior changes may occur slowly, over time. Or they may start suddenly. The child may slowly become more shy and withdrawn. They may start to talk about odd ideas or fears and start to cling more to parents.

Each child’s symptoms may vary. Early warning signs are:

Children with schizophrenia have the same symptoms as adults with the condition. But more children hear voices. Children also don’t tend to have delusions or formal thought problems until they are in their teens or older.

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed in a child?

A child with symptoms of schizophrenia needs a thorough medical and mental health evaluation. Talk with your child's healthcare provider if you are concerned about symptoms your child is having. A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health expert can diagnose schizophrenia in children and teens. They do a mental health evaluation to figure out how best to treat the child.

When selecting an experienced child and adolescent psychiatrist, look for someone who considers and respects a family’s cultural background. Some behaviors may be related to a person or their family’s cultural belief systems as opposed to symptoms of a mental illness. For example, some cultures believe they can communicate with deceased loved ones. It’s very important that both the child and the family feel that their mental health providers will acknowledge and respect their cultural beliefs.

How is schizophrenia treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Schizophrenia is a serious, life-long mental illness. Treatment is complex and needs direction from an expert in childhood schizophrenia, such as a board certified child psychiatrist. A child often needs a combination of therapies and resources to meet the specific needs. Treatment is aimed at easing symptoms and improving your child's quality of life. It may include the following.


The doses and types of medicines may need to be adjusted from time to time so they can keep working well. Your child may be given:

  • Medicines to help reduce delusions and hallucinations (antipsychotics). This special class of medicines can reduce symptoms or reduce how severe the symptoms are. But they don’t cure schizophrenia.

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  • Mood stabilizing medicines. Examples are lithium and valproic acid, especially in the early stages of the illness.

Other treatment

  • Individual and family therapy. This may include supportive, thinking, and behavioral therapy.

  • Specialized educational or structured activity programs. These may include social skills training, vocational training, and speech and language therapy.

  • Self-help and support groups. These can help the child learn ways to cope with the disorder and also work on social skills.

How can I help prevent schizophrenia in my child?

Experts don’t know how to prevent schizophrenia. But early diagnosis and treatment can improve a child’s quality of life. Treatment works best when early symptoms are dealt with quickly.

How can I help my child live with schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that will require your support, patience, and attention. You are your child’s best advocate. Here are things you can do to help:

  • In an age-appropriate manner, explain schizophrenia to your child and the reasons they need to take medicines and talk to so many adults. Since this is a life-long illness, the more you can empower your child to understand schizophrenia, be aware of their unique symptoms, and learn how the illness is managed, the better prepared your child will be to care for themselves as they age. If you are uncomfortable doing this, ask your child's mental health professional for help.

  • Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider and educational team. Talk with your child’s provider about referring your child to a psychiatrist with experience evaluating and treating children with schizophrenia.

  • Be sure you understand your child's medicines, including what side effects to look for, what do to when a dose is missed, and when to call the provider.

  • Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about other providers who will be involved in your child’s care. Your child may get care from a team that may include experts like psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, school psychologists, teachers, and social workers. Your child’s care team will depend on their needs and how serious the schizophrenia is.

  • Tell others who need to know about your child’s schizophrenia. Work with your child’s healthcare provider and school to develop a treatment plan.

  • Take care of yourself. Schizophrenia is a difficult disease. You may feel overwhelmed or stressed out. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with schizophrenia may be helpful. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about a support group for caregivers of children with schizophrenia or seek counseling.

  • Remember your other children. Siblings also suffer when a brother or sister is ill. Again, in an age-appropriate manner, explain schizophrenia. Consider support groups for your other children to help them deal with the stress they are experiencing. Ask your mental health providers for help if you are not sure how to explain the situation.

  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act help ensure that public school meets your child's educational needs . Talk with your child’s teacher and school principal about reasonable accommodations so your child can be successful in school.

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  • If your child is older, make sure they have emergency numbers in their phone. Emergency numbers include parents, other trusted adults, the healthcare provider, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Help your child understand that reaching out for help is the most courageous thing to do if self-harm is being considered.

Call or text 988 in a crisis

  • Take all symptoms of depression and suicide very seriously. Get help now. Suicide is a health emergency. Call or text 988 if your child has thoughts or plans to harm themselves or others. You will be connected to trained crisis counselors at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. An online chat option is also available at Lifeline is free and available 24/7.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Call your healthcare provider right away if your child:

Schizophrenia may increase a child’s risk for suicidal thinking.

Key points about schizophrenia in children

  • Schizophrenia is a serious, life-long mental illness. It can be treated by not cured.

    (Video) 3 Things Someone With Schizophrenia Wants You To Know

  • A child with this disorder has unusual behavior and strange feelings. They may have delusions or hallucinations.

  • Symptoms can develop slowly over time or start quickly.

  • A mental health expert can diagnose schizophrenia. Ask for a referral to a psychiatrist with experience evaluating and treating children with schizophrenia.

  • Treatment can include a combination of medicine, therapy, and special programs.

  • The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act provide legal protections for your child in a public school setting.

  • Schizophrenia is a difficult disease. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about a support group for caregivers and siblings of children with schizophrenia or seek individual and family counseling.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

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  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.

  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.


What are the 3 core symptoms of pediatric schizophrenia? ›

Schizophrenia involves a range of problems with thinking, behavior or emotions. Signs and symptoms may vary, but usually involve delusions, hallucinations or disorganized speech, and reflect an impaired ability to function.

Is childhood schizophrenia in the DSM 5? ›

Pediatric schizophrenia describes schizophrenia experienced by patients with an initial presentation before adulthood and is currently diagnosed with DSM-5 diagnostic criteria similar to those of adult schizophrenia.

When schizophrenia occurs in childhood? ›

What Is Childhood Schizophrenia? Childhood schizophrenia is a severe mental health disorder in children younger than age 13 that affects the way they deal with reality. They might have unusual thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. It's also called childhood-onset or very early onset schizophrenia.

At what age do signs of schizophrenia begin? ›

Although schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset tends to be in the late teens to the early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women. It is uncommon for schizophrenia to be diagnosed in a person younger than 12 or older than 40. It is possible to live well with schizophrenia.

Is schizophrenia inherited from mother or father? ›

Schizophrenia Is Tough to Nail Down Genetically

One of the hardest parts about determining whether schizophrenia is inherited from your mother or father is that scientists are having trouble distinguishing the genes where the disease originates.

How common is pediatric 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.

What is the youngest person to be diagnosed with schizophrenia? ›

We describe the case of a 6-year-old boy with new-onset schizophrenia, who showed unusual behavior suggestive of psychotic symptoms as early as infancy.

What is childhood schizophrenia called? ›

Childhood schizophrenia
Other namesChildhood type schizophrenia; schizophrenia, childhood type; childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS); very early-onset schizophrenia (VEOS); schizophrenic syndrome of childhood
SpecialtyChild psychiatry (EU), Child and adolescent psychiatry (USA), clinical psychology
6 more rows

What are schizophrenics like as children? ›

Children with schizophrenia tend to experience hallucinations, but not delusions, until they reach early adulthood. problems distinguishing dreams from reality. regressive behavior (for example, an older child suddenly acting like a much younger child and clinging to parents) severe anxiety.

What are the 5 A's of schizophrenia in order 1 to 5? ›

The subtypes of negative symptoms are often summarized as the 'five A's': affective flattening, alogia, anhedonia, asociality, and avolition (Kirkpatrick et al., 2006; Messinger et al., 2011).

Can childhood schizophrenia go away? ›

It's a long-lasting and disabling problem of the brain. It can be treated, but right now there is no cure. A child with this disorder has unusual behavior and strange feelings. They may suddenly start to have psychotic symptoms.

Is my 7 year old schizophrenic? ›

detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas. suspiciousness and/or paranoia (fearfulness that someone, or something, is going to harm them) hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real such as hearing voices telling them to do something) delusions (ideas that seem real but are not based in reality)

What age does schizophrenia peak? ›

The peak age of onset of schizophrenia is 15 – 25 years in men and 20 – 30 years in women. It is often preceded by a prodromal phase of vague symptoms, some odd behaviours and a decline in functioning at school or work and interpersonally.

What triggers schizophrenia to start? ›

The exact causes of schizophrenia are unknown. Research suggests a combination of physical, genetic, psychological and environmental factors can make a person more likely to develop the condition. Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode.

What is the life expectancy of a schizophrenic? ›

People with schizophrenia generally live about 15 to 20 years less than those without the condition. Schizophrenia is a complex disease.

How do I get my child tested for schizophrenia? ›

Self/At-Home Testing

The only way to obtain an accurate assessment and diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia is to be evaluated by a trained mental health provider. However, parents and caregivers should be aware of the early warning signs to ensure they seek care as soon as possible.

Which parent is responsible for schizophrenia? ›

Past studies have reported that offspring of affected mothers have a higher risk of schizophrenia than the offspring of affected fathers; however, other studies found no such maternal effect [Gottesman and Shields, 1976].

Is schizophrenia caused by trauma? ›

Research suggests that schizophrenia occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which can cause abnormal development in the brain. In people with these risk factors, severely stressful life events, trauma, abuse, or neglect may trigger the condition.

Is schizophrenia caused by inbreeding? ›

Inbreeding was associated with schizophrenia based on self-reported consanguinity (χ2 = 4.506, 1 df, p = 0.034) and DNA-based estimates for inbreeding (F); the latter with a significant F × age interaction (β = 32.34, p = 0.0047). The association was most notable among patients older than age 40 years.

Can a 5 year old have psychosis? ›

Childhood psychosis is rare. It is a severe mental disorder where children interpret reality abnormally. With childhood psychosis, the early age of onset presents special challenges for diagnosis, treatment, education, and emotional and social development. Early intervention may improve a youngster's prognosis.

Who has the highest risk of developing schizophrenia? ›

The risk for schizophrenia has been found to be somewhat higher in men than in women, with the incidence risk ratio being 1.3–1.4. Schizophrenia tends to develop later in women, but there do not appear to be any differences between men and women in the earliest symptoms and signs during the prodromal phase.

Can schizophrenia be mistaken for autism? ›

Schizophrenia may be best known for its so-called 'positive' features, such as hallucinations and delusions, but it also involves 'negative' traits — for example, social withdrawal or a lack of emotional response — that can resemble autism and sometimes lead to misdiagnoses.

What is schizophrenia commonly mistaken for? ›

Bipolar disorder.

Some people with severe bipolar disorder have delusions or hallucinations. That's why they may be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

What does a mild case of schizophrenia look like? ›

You could have: Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that aren't there. Delusions: Mistaken but firmly held beliefs that are easy to prove wrong, like thinking you have superpowers, are a famous person, or people are out to get you. Disorganized speech: Using words and sentences that don't make sense to others.

What is borderline schizophrenia? ›

Borderline schizophrenia is held to be a valid entity that should be included in the DSM-III. It is a chronic illness that may be associated with many other symptoms but is best characterized by perceptual-cognitive abnormalities. It has a familial distribution and a genetic relationship with schizophrenia.

What is a alogia? ›

Some people are naturally quiet and don't say much. But if you have a serious mental illness, brain injury, or dementia, talking might be hard. This lack of conversation is called alogia, or “poverty of speech.” Alogia can affect your quality of life.

What is the recommended treatment approach for childhood onset schizophrenia? ›

Individual therapy.

Psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, with a skilled mental health professional can help reduce symptoms and help your child learn ways to deal with the stress and daily life challenges of schizophrenia.

What are 3 criteria for a schizophrenia diagnosis? ›

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5), to meet the criteria for diagnosis of schizophrenia, the patient must have experienced at least 2 of the following symptoms : Delusions. Hallucinations. Disorganized speech.

What are 3 positive symptoms of schizophrenia? ›

Positive and negative symptoms are medical terms for two groups of symptoms in schizophrenia. Positive symptoms add. Positive symptoms include hallucinations (sensations that aren't real), delusions (beliefs that can't be real), and repetitive movements that are hard to control.

What are the three domains of symptoms in schizophrenia? ›

The most frequently mentioned domains are positive symptoms (hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder), cognitive dysfunction (attention, working memory and episodic memory functions and processing speed), and negative symptoms (paucity of thought, lack of affect).

What are the three major clusters of symptoms in schizophrenia? ›

There are three main categories of symptoms for schizophrenia including positive, negative, and disorganized symptoms.

What can trigger schizophrenia? ›

Some people may be prone to schizophrenia, and a stressful or emotional life event might trigger a psychotic episode.
The main psychological triggers of schizophrenia are stressful life events, such as:
  • bereavement.
  • losing your job or home.
  • divorce.
  • the end of a relationship.
  • physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

What tests confirm schizophrenia? ›

There's no single test for schizophrenia and the condition is usually diagnosed after assessment by a specialist in mental health. If you're concerned you may be developing symptoms of schizophrenia, see a GP as soon as possible.

What are the 5 A's of schizophrenia? ›

The negative symptom domain consists of five key constructs: blunted affect, alogia (reduction in quantity of words spoken), avolition (reduced goal-directed activity due to decreased motivation), asociality, and anhedonia (reduced experience of pleasure).

What is schizophrenia usually mistaken for? ›

Bipolar disorder.

Some people with severe bipolar disorder have delusions or hallucinations. That's why they may be misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

Do schizophrenics know they are schizophrenic? ›

Early Warning Signs of Schizophrenia

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.

Can schizophrenia be caused by trauma? ›

Research suggests that schizophrenia occurs due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which can cause abnormal development in the brain. In people with these risk factors, severely stressful life events, trauma, abuse, or neglect may trigger the condition.

What is the most serious form of schizophrenia? ›

Paranoid schizophrenia

It may develop later in life than other forms. Symptoms include hallucinations and/or delusions, but your speech and emotions may not be affected.

What movie is based on schizophrenia? ›

Perhaps the best-known movie about schizophrenia, “A Beautiful Mind” is a powerful account of the life of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Nash (Russell Crowe).

What part of the brain does schizophrenia affect the most? ›

The cerebellum is among the most affected brain regions in schizophrenia, new research has found. Compared to healthy individuals, cerebellar volume was smaller in patients with schizophrenia.

Are you born with schizophrenia? ›

Differences in brain chemistry

Studies show that people can be more likely to experience schizophrenia if their brain development was disrupted during pregnancy or early childhood. Changes in brain structure do not appear in everyone with schizophrenia though.

What is suspicious schizophrenia? ›

Paranoia, or excess suspiciousness, is the unfounded belief that others purposely intend to cause harm [2•]. It is a subcomponent of schizotypy and the most commonly reported subtype of delusion in schizophrenic patients.


1. 2-Minute Neuroscience: Autism
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2. 'Did I inherit mental illness?' BBC News
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3. Schizophrenia: Assessment – Psychiatry | Lecturio
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4. Schizophrenia Explains Schizophrenia || The Mental Illnesses 3.5
(Gregory "Jreg" Guevara)
5. Mental Illness Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment | Merck Manual Consumer Version
(Merck Manuals)
6. Living with Schizophrenia -- Physicians' Perspectives
(Johnson & Johnson)
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