Childhood Schizophrenia: Symptoms, Causes And Treatment

Schizophrenia is a disabling, chronic and very complex disorder. Rarely, this disorder appears during childhood.

Childhood schizophreniaAlthough it is part of the schizophrenia spectrum, it receives a specific name because children who suffer from it show a very homogeneous condition with an unfavorable prognosis that must be diagnosed as soon as possible to stop the patient’s clinical worsening.

These children, who, like adults, suffer from hallucinations and delusions, also show brain abnormalities and genetic risk factors that explain the early development of the disease.

    Childhood schizophrenia clinic

    Most cases of childhood schizophrenia They are diagnosed through the presence of hallucinationsa very striking symptom.

    However, It is not the only symptom that these boys and girls exhibit.. In the same way that occurs with schizophrenia in adulthood, the psychotic picture of schizophrenics is very diverse and includes different symptoms, both psychotic and disorganizational.

    1. Psychotic symptoms

    The main cause of alert for parents is the presence of hallucinations. The most common are auditory hallucinations such as unpleasant and negative voices speaking to the patient or they call you. Voices can be male or female, familiar or unfamiliar, critical or flattering. Sounds, noises or music are considered less frequent and severe.

    It is also possible to find visual hallucinations, seeing shapes, colors or people that are not present and that may even have religious characteristics, for example, seeing the devil or Christ.

    Another psychotic manifestation is the presence of delusions. A delusion is an unfounded and rigid belief to which the patient clings like a burning nail, whose content is implausible or very difficult to believe. For example, delusions of persecution where the patient believes he is the victim of a conspiracy, that someone is spying on him, etc.

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    Children are very imaginative individuals, which is why It is very easy to confuse delusions with fantasies. which can be more or less extravagant depending on the creativity of the little one. Likewise, ideas like “my parents can read my thoughts” may well be delusions or the product of an innocent and gullible mind. The clinician’s good judgment is essential at this point.

      2. Symptoms of disorganization

      In childhood schizophrenia we find Outlandish behaviors, such as unusual food preferences, strange social behavior, strange or illogical speech. Once again, we must separate the incoherence typical of children’s speech from illogicality that does not correspond to the child’s evolutionary level.

      Of all the disorganizational manifestations in childhood schizophrenia, those that are most seen are motor and social. Prior to diagnosis, it is common for parents to talk about strange gestures, grimaces or postures that anticipate the development of the disorder. Plus, these kids are socially awkward. They may find it difficult to maintain a conversation with other children, express ideas, they talk about extravagant topics and lose the thread of the dialogue. In general they are described as “weird” by the rest of their classmates.

        Causes of childhood schizophrenia

        Although the direct cause of the development of childhood schizophrenia is unknown, we do know various risk factors that are associated with the disorder.

        Having first-degree relatives with schizophrenia The probability of having this disorder increases, so there is a genetic load in its development. The presence of other comorbid disorders, such as anxiety disorders, ADHD or conduct disorder, often accompanies childhood schizophrenia. It is also found that in families of children with this disorder, emotions are expressed with greater intensity.

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        There are various studies that describe how complications during childbirth can lead to abnormalities in neurological development and subsequently to schizophrenia. Above all, complications that involve cutting off the flow of oxygen to the brain and causing hypoxia have been linked to the subsequent development of the disorder, although the exact mechanism is not at all clear.

        In these children the lateral ventricles of the brain are enlarged. In addition, they progressively lose gray matter in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, similar to how adults do. Thus, patients with childhood schizophrenia have smaller brain volume than the normal population.

        Prognosis and treatment

        The age at which schizophrenia begins is a very powerful predictor of its severity and prognosis. Those people who develop schizophrenia sooner will have a greater impact and therefore a worse prognosis. They are expected to be more impaired at the level of thinking, language, motor skills and social behavior than those who debuted later.

        For this reason, childhood schizophrenia predicts a poor prognosis for those who suffer from it unless it is diagnosed in time. This makes the evaluation of possible schizophrenia during childhood a race against time where the professional must be exhaustive, but not go too fast and scar a child for life.

        Once it is determined that the child does indeed suffer from childhood-onset schizophrenia, pharmacological therapy with antipsychotics will begin immediately to cushion as much as possible the deterioration caused by the disorder. It will also be necessary to educate parents on what types of symptoms to expect, how they are managed, and what special needs the child may have later.

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        In parallel, delusions and hallucinations are psychologically addressed, teaching the child to recognize them as such. Psychotic symptoms are frequently preceded by negative moods and it is possible to realize when one is in a vulnerable period. Furthermore, it is imperative teach these patients to make alternative interpretations of events to get out of the rigidity that characterizes delusions.

        Finally, it is possible to address the social behavior of the child with schizophrenia through social skills training to teach him to relate in a normal way with others and to be able to establish meaningful bonds with his classmates.