Childhood schizophrenia


By Mayo Clinic staff

Early signs and symptoms

The earliest indications of childhood schizophrenia may include developmental problems, such as:

  • Language delays
  • Late or unusual crawling
  • Late walking
  • Other abnormal motor behaviors, such as rocking or arm flapping

Some of these signs and symptoms are also common in children with pervasive developmental disorders, such as autism. In fact, ruling out these developmental disorders is one of the first steps in diagnosing childhood schizophrenia.


Later signs and symptoms

As children with schizophrenia age, more typical signs and symptoms of the disorder begin to appear, including:

  • Seeing or hearing things that don't exist (hallucinations), especially voices
  • Having beliefs not based on reality (delusions)
  • Lack of emotion
  • Emotions inappropriate for the situation
  • Social withdrawal
  • Poor school performance
  • Decreased ability to practice self-care
  • Strange eating rituals
  • Incoherent speech
  • Illogical thinking
  • Agitation

Symptoms may be difficult to interpret

When childhood schizophrenia begins very early in life, symptoms may build up gradually. The early signs and symptoms may be so vague that you can't quite decide what's wrong, or you may attribute them to a developmental phase.

As time goes on, the symptoms may become more severe and more noticeable to family, friends and school officials. Eventually, your child may develop the symptoms of psychosis, including hallucinations, delusions and difficulty with organizing his or her thoughts. As thoughts become more disorganized, there's often a "break from reality." This phase of childhood schizophrenia is often the most distressing to children and their families and frequently results in hospitalization and treatment with medication.


When to see a doctor

It can be difficult to know how to handle vague behavioral changes in your child. You may be afraid of rushing to conclusions that may lead to stigmatizing labels. Yet, treatment at the first sign of a problem may help in the long run.

If you notice that your child has stopped meeting daily expectations, such as bathing or dressing, no longer wants to socialize, is slipping in academic performance, has violent or aggressive behavior, or has other signs and symptoms of a possible mental health disorder, seek medical advice. These general signs and symptoms don't necessarily mean a child has childhood schizophrenia. They could indicate simply a phase or another condition, such as depression, an anxiety disorder or a medical illness that requires other types of evaluation.

If your child has a change in thinking, such as developing hallucinations, disorganized thinking patterns or distortions in reality, seek medical care as soon as possible, as these symptoms should be addressed right away. Your child's teacher or other school personnel also may bring to your attention changes in your child's behavior.


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"I had gradual onset schizophrenia but a bad LSD trip is what triggered my psychosis. I had smoked pot daily for my last two years of high school, drank every weekend and occasionally took acid."


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