Schizophrenia is a mental illness where the patient thinks and behaves unusually. We all are aware of schizophrenia in adults, but to our disbelief schizophrenia can also develop in children. Presentation of the disease is almost same as in adults but the only difference is it occurs in prepubertal childhood. Though rare, this mental illness in children can profoundly affect the growth and development of the child.
A child suffering from schizophrenia may present with symptoms such as delusion, hallucination, disorganized behavior, combativeness etc. It is difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in children due to its gradual onset.The exact cause of schizophrenia is not known. Researchers believe a change in brain chemical, hereditary and environmental causes are the triggering factors. Since the disease is chronic, detecting it as early as possible is beneficial for overall development and improvement of the child.
What Causes Schizophrenia In Children
The exact cause of schizophrenia in children is not known to researchers and physicians, but they believe it develops in the same way as it does in adults. There is no clarity why schizophrenia occurs in children, but genetic inheritance and environmental conditions may be the responsible causes.Changes in brain chemicals known as neurotransmitter may be a factor in development of schizophrenia. Imaging study reveals several structural changes in brain of a schizophrenic child. Why this occurs still remains unresolved.
Certain triggering factors that may be responsible for schizophrenia in children include:
- There is history of schizophrenia in the family.
- Mother may have suffered from virus disease during her pregnancy period.
- Nutritional deficiency in pregnant mother.
- The mother may be passing through a stressful situation during her pregnancy.
- Pregnancy during old age.
Schizophrenia Symptoms In Children
Though the symptoms and signs of schizophrenia may be similar to that of adults, it may differ in some perspective. Here are the early warning symptoms.
Developmental milestones are delayed. This means the child is late in learning to speak and walk. He even crawls late. There are unusual movements such as flapping of arms and rocking. This signs are not particular of schizophrenia as they are present similarly in other mental affections such as autism. Therefore, it is necessary for the pediatrician to rule out this developmental disorder before confirming the diagnosis of schizophrenia.
In later stage of preteen and teen years, the symptoms become more obvious.
The child is now grown up and the parents can observe some of the abnormalities in their child. They may find them complaining of hearing and seeing things which does not exists in reality. The child is disillusioned. He believes in things which are away from reality and is totally confused. He becomes emotionless, or his emotions do not reflect appropriately to the situation. He remains untidy and avoids taking bath for days together. He does not talk with his peers. His scholastic performance gets affected. He becomes aggressive and violent; throws thing and utensils whenever he gets angry. This destructive behavior can be directed outwards or to self.
Treatment For Schizophrenia In Children
Schizophrenia in children is a chronic illness. The disease may persist even in adulthood. Therefore treatment should be taken for a long time even when the symptoms have receded for time being.
Treatment for Schizophrenic children needs a comprehensive approach. Hospitalization, neuroleptic drugs and supportive psychotherapy are required by the child. Long period of regression then follows. During this period, the patient and parents should not abandon medicines and therapy as directed by the doctor. This is because the child is still vulnerable for reappearance of symptoms. Medications given to the child are carefully monitored by the attending physician.
Some of the medicines used for schizophrenic children may increase the risk of obesity and high cholesterol level. Therefore the child should exercise and eat healthy diet which has less amount of fat. Make sure that the teenager does not have problem of substance abuse. As alcohol and cigarette smoking can worsen schizophrenia symptoms.