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Schizophrenia, one of the most complex of all mental health disorders, can be a severe, chronic, and disabling disturbance of the brain that causes distorted thinking, strange feelings, and unusual behavior and use of language and words.
Schizophrenia can occur at any age, but the majority develop symptoms between the ages of 16 and 25. Younger children can also develop this illness. Schizophrenia is uncommon in children under 12 and can be very 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 1 percent of the population in the United States. A child born into a family with one or more schizophrenic family members 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 7 to 8 percent.
If a parent has schizophrenia, the chance for a child to have the disorder is 10 to 15 percent. Risks increase with multiple affected family members.
In children and adolescents with schizophrenia, behavior changes may occur slowly, over time, or have a sudden onset. The child may gradually become more shy and withdrawn. They may talk about bizarre ideas or fears and begin to cling more to parents.
One of the most disturbing and puzzling characteristics of schizophrenia is the sudden onset of its psychotic symptoms.
The following are the most common symptoms of schizophrenia. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Early warning signs of schizophrenia in children may include:
The symptoms of schizophrenia are often classified as positive (symptoms including delusions, hallucinations, and bizarre behavior), negative (symptoms including flat affect, withdrawal, and emotional unresponsiveness), disorganized speech (including speech that is incomprehensible), and disorganized or catatonic behavior (including marked mood swings, sudden aggressive, or confusion, followed by sudden motionlessness and staring).
The behavior of children with schizophrenia may differ from adults with schizophrenia. Children, more often (in 80 percent of diagnosed cases), experience auditory hallucinations and typically do not experience delusions or formal thought disorders until mid-adolescence or older.
The symptoms of schizophrenia may resemble other problems or psychiatric conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Specific treatment for schizophrenia will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Schizophrenia is a major psychiatric illness. Treatment for schizophrenia is complex. A combination of therapies is often necessary to meet the individualized needs of the child or adolescent with schizophrenia.
There is currently no cure for schizophrenia. Treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms associated with the disorder. When symptoms are particularly bad, a child with schizophrenia may need to be hospitalized. Types of treatment that may be helpful to a child or adolescent with schizophrenia may include:
Preventive measures to reduce the incidence of schizophrenia are not known at this time. However, identification and early intervention can improve the quality of life experienced by children and adolescents with schizophrenia.
Further, treatment is most successful when symptoms of the first psychotic episode are addressed properly and promptly. Studies suggest that early treatment may reduce the decline in functioning and other long-term problems that are usually associated with schizophrenia.
It is crucial to the success of the treated child or teen who is prescribed medications for the treatment of schizophrenia to remain compliant.
Dosages and types of medications may need to be adjusted periodically to maintain effectiveness. Always consult your child's physician for more information.
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