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Does schizophrenia affect children differently than adults?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Although schizophrenia is thought to be rare in children, it may occur. Symptoms that both children and teens may have include:
  • hallucinations, which are sounds, voices, or images that are not really there
  • bizarre thoughts
  • having a hard time distinguishing dreams, or things on TV, from real life
  • a decrease in personal hygiene
However, some of these symptoms may be hard to distinguish from normal childhood. For example, young children often mix up dreams with reality or believe that magical things are real.

Some children who show early signs of schizophrenia may change their behavior over time. For example, an outgoing child may become shy or clingy, or he may suddenly start saying or thinking things that do not make sense. If you are concerned that your child is showing signs of schizophrenia, talk with his pediatrician. The pediatrician will be able to refer you to a child psychiatrist, who can do a full evaluation of your child. If your child is diagnosed with schizophrenia, the psychiatrist will come up with a treatment plan to help your child (and your family) as much as possible.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Like baldness and wrinkles, people rarely have problems with schizophrenia until late adolescence or adulthood. However, if a child (under the age of 13) is in fact diagnosed, he will experience the same symptoms as adults with schizophrenia. And these symptoms, no matter how old you are, can easily be confused with other mental health disorders, like depression or anxiety. That being said, common schizophrenia symptoms can be broken down into three categories: positive (meaning present), negative (meaning absent), and cognitive/behavioral. Did you see the movie A Beautiful Mind? Spoiler alert! Professor Nash was living an elaborate secret life that was, in fact, all in his head! This film depicts the positive (psychotic) symptoms of schizophrenia quite well. To recap the movie, positive symptoms that include hallucinations or delusions, experiencing emotions that are not appropriate for the situation, and strange behavior or responses to people’s questions. Negative symptoms include not enjoying activities you used to love, feeling like you are void of emotions, having difficulty paying attention, and not taking care of yourself. There are also specific behavioral changes that you may see like paranoia, disorganized speech and behavior (including made-up words), and unusual or complete lack of movement for extended periods of time.

Schizophrenia is not often diagnosed in children. Most people do not begin to display symptoms until early adulthood. When schizophrenia does occur in childhood, it affects children in the same way that it affects adults. Parents may notice their children failing to engage in social life or in activities with others as the beginnings of schizophrenia.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.