How does a doctor screen for schizophrenia in a young child?

Mark Moronell, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Doctors must use different techniques to screen for schizophrenia in children, compared to techniques used for adults. To ensure that your child is receiving the best mental health diagnosis and care, seek out a psychiatrist specializing in children. Ask your pediatrician for a referral to a child psychiatrist if you have trouble finding one on your own. A child psychiatrist will ask your child questions, evaluating her language, behavior, and thought processes.

You will also be an important part of the assessment. The doctor may ask you about developmental milestones your child has reached, and when they were reached. The psychiatrist may ask you about any recent stresses in the family, and whether your child has been impaired in certain areas like sleep, eating, and social relationships. The child's teacher may also be questioned about school performance and interactions with peers. Often, a physical exam is performed as well, to rule out any coexisting medical conditions. Diagnosing schizophrenia in young children is time-consuming and can take months. If you are concerned about your child, seek help now, because an early diagnosis often leads to better treatment results.
Douglas E. Severance, MD
Family Medicine
In order to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, the child must experience at least two common symptoms of schizophrenia for six months or more. These symptoms must be causing difficulty in the child's life. Common symptoms of schizophrenia include:

• Hearing and seeing things that are not real
• Fears that people are spying on or planning harm to the child
• Trouble maintaining conversations or speaking clearly
• Unusual behaviors and disorganized thinking
• Dull appearance and flat emotions
• Loss of energy and motivation
• Lack of interest in daily life

It can be difficult to diagnose children with schizophrenia because some of these symptoms are also symptoms of other mental illnesses, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Adolescents who abuse drugs or alcohol may also show some of the symptoms of schizophrenia, without actually having the disorder. 

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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.