A scared boy distorting into different versions of himself as he battles schizophrenia.

Artwork by Monjira Sen

A scared boy distorting into different versions of himself as he battles schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia in Children: What is it?

Medically reviewed by

Written by Riddhima Poddar

Suspecting that your child may have schizophrenia can never be easy. What if you’re reading too much into an otherwise innocent situation? This blog will explore what early-onset schizophrenia is, its symptoms, causes, and some of the best treatment plans and interventions available for the same.

At what age does childhood schizophrenia start?

While schizophrenia can be diagnosed in children as early as 7 years old, the most common manifestations are detected in late childhood or early adolescence. Early onset of the disorder can more severely impact the development and functioning of the individual while also resulting in more pronounced symptoms.

What is childhood schizophrenia, also known as?

Childhood schizophrenia is also known as early-onset schizophrenia. This is usually diagnosed in the teenage years of an individual and can completely break down a person’s development and functioning. Early-onset schizophrenia is associated with more severe symptoms of the disorder as well. 

Early Onset Schizophrenia: What is it?

Childhood Schizophrenia, or early-onset schizophrenia in children, is a chronic mental health condition that affects how a child thinks, feels, and behaves. It usually develops between the ages of 13 and 18. However, mental health professionals have identified its signs in younger children as well- those cases being sporadic. 

The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists the same criteria for diagnosing a child as those used for adults. However, the clinical presentation of schizophrenia varies slightly in children.

Schizophrenia Signs and Symptoms in Children

Dr. Priya explains the early signs of Schizophrenia in children as “The prodromal phase usually precedes the onset of schizophrenia in children. This is when you might observe your child distancing from their everyday life, friends, and family. They may exhibit a lack of motivation and may show disdain toward socializing.”

During this period, your child’s grades might suddenly drop. They may have trouble concentrating and paying attention, and their verbal memory may be severely affected.

It must be understood here that not all children who show these signs would have developed schizophrenia. However, as a primary caregiver, you should consult with your doctor if you notice these signs.

Some early symptoms of schizophrenia include:


They are marked by an intense fear that someone or something will hurt them. Delusions, though less common among children with schizophrenia, may lead to social isolation and emotional withdrawal.


Children with schizophrenia often experience visual and auditory hallucinations. Tactile hallucinations may also accompany them. Hallucinations may diminish the ability of the child to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

Disorganized Speech

Disorganized speech usually entails a child losing their train of thought, stopping in the middle of a sentence, and then abruptly changing the topic. As a result, their responses may be incoherent, and their speech may lack emotional expression.

Catatonic Behaviour 

Characterized by an inability to adequately speak, move, or respond to the environment. The child may showcase a flat affect or get excited even when a stimulus is absent. They may get anxious, fidgety, or angry as well. It also involves the child simply sitting and staring for an extended period.

Causes of Childhood Schizophrenia

What causes schizophrenia in children is not known. However, mental health professionals believe that, as in adults, an amalgamation of certain bio-psycho-social factors contributes to the development of the disorder. 

A link between schizophrenia and problems with naturally occurring brain chemicals, including neurotransmitters called dopamine and glutamate, has also been found. 

However, we are yet to discover why some children develop early-onset schizophrenia.

Risk factors

Certain risk factors may trigger or increase the likelihood of a child developing schizophrenia:

  • A history of schizophrenia among family members
  • Older age of the father at the time of conception
  • Increased immune system activation
  • Malnutrition or exposure to toxins or viruses that may impact brain development during pregnancy or childbirth
  • Use of psychoactive drugs during teen years

How is childhood schizophrenia diagnosed?

Childhood schizophrenia can be diagnosed by a mental health professional like a psychiatrist. They will conduct an in-depth analysis of the child’s medical history and that of their family as well. They may suggest certain diagnostic tests and scanning to rule out any other conditions. They will also suggest psychometric assessments to help with the diagnosis.

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Childhood Schizophrenia Complications

Childhood schizophrenia can result in multiple complications. This could include difficulty with academic performance and social interactions, an increased risk of self-harm, or suicidal behavior. It can also result in delayed or impaired social, emotional, and cognitive development. All of these can completely derail the child's ability to lead a normal, independent life in adulthood.

Treatment Plan and Interventions for Schizophrenia in Children

It is natural that, as a parent, you seek the best treatments and interventions for your child. However, uncertainty regarding the efficacy of the treatment is always a question that plagues the mind. 

While your doctor will be best suited to design a treatment plan that will work best for your child, here is a general overview of available interventions to ease your anxious mind.

Managing Schizophrenia: Best Treatment Practices

Seeking professional help is the first step towards recovery. A multidisciplinary team is usually the most effective in ensuring recovery. The treatment team usually includes psychiatrists, psychologists, family therapists, counselors, and more. 


Like adults, children with schizophrenia might be prescribed antipsychotic medications. These help in managing symptoms like delusions and hallucinations. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of different antipsychotics and doses to manage the symptoms effectively. 

While adults are prescribed first-generation antipsychotics, doctors prefer to define children with a second-generation variant. These relatively new antipsychotic drugs have fewer side effects. However, they may cause weight gain, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, or increase the likelihood of developing heart diseases. 

Depending on their symptoms, your child may also be prescribed some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medicines.

Psychotherapy for Schizophrenia

If delusions and hallucinations persist despite adequate trials of medication, your psychiatrist may recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for your child along with their medication.

CBT involves a reevaluation of the beliefs stemming from delusions. The therapist will gently nudge your child to discuss and explore the nature of their symptoms. The goal of CBT is to generate alternate interpretations so that when your child may experience delusions and hallucinations, they are better equipped to cope with them. CBT is proven to curb the stress and anxiety arising from psychotic episodes. 

Skills Training

While the goal of medication and therapy is to alleviate delusions and hallucinations, skills training focuses on enhancing your child’s functioning in other affected areas of life. For instance, children with attention and memory deficits receive age-appropriate vocational training to facilitate rehabilitation and employment. 

Your child will also receive social skills training to work on the negative symptoms they may experience- such as social withdrawal and lack of motivation.


If your child experiences a severe psychotic episode, hospitalization will ensure that they are under professional care. Your child will be safe, and experts will take care of their nutrition and hygiene.

Coping with the Diagnosis

Learning about your child’s chronic condition is never easy. However, to be able to help and support your child through it, you need to ensure your own well-being. 

Stay in touch with your friends and family. This will create an emotional support structure around you- allowing you to share your experience with your child’s diagnosis. If it gets tricky, approach a mental health professional. Seek counseling.   

Remember that there are resources available to help you and your child through their schizophrenia and that you don’t have to be a lone warrior.

When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?

Schizophrenia is a disorder that can lead to multiple emergency situations. It is best to call a healthcare provider when you notice your child battling severe delusions or hallucinations. They may be a threat to themselves and their surroundings in such situations. A dedicated psychiatric organization or hospital can help you in emergency situations. 

How soon after treatment will my child feel better?

Recovery is a journey, and it takes some time. While there is no exact window in which your child might begin recovering, you can expect some improvement after the first 2-3 consultations with a mental health professional. The key to recovery is to stick to the treatment regimen prescribed and remain in constant contact with your mental health professional. 

How can Cadabams help?

As parents, coming to terms with the fact that your child is facing Schizophrenia is not easy. What makes it more difficult is the sheer complexity of treatment options and centers around you. Where do you take your child? Will they offer the right treatment options? Will they care for your child? What else can you do?

These are the myriad questions that parents face. We are the answer to all of those questions. 

We offer OPD consultations, hospitalization services, and rehabilitative services. We offer medically proven treatment options while pushing the envelope in innovative treatment modalities. Cadabam’s has over 3 decades of experience treating mental health disorders. 

Most importantly, we know how it feels to watch a loved one fight a mental health disorder. Once you come to us, you are part of the Cadabams family, and our treatment pathways personify that.

If you are searching for a solution to your problem, Cadabam’s Rehabilitation Centre can help you with its team of specialized experts. We have been helping thousands of people live healthier and happier lives for 30+ years. We leverage evidence-based approaches and holistic treatment methods to help Children effectively manage their Schizophrenia. Get in touch with us today. You can call us at +91 96111 94949.

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1. What is childhood schizophrenia?

Childhood schizophrenia is also called early-onset schizophrenia. It is a condition where children as young as 7 years old exhibit signs of schizophrenia, including delusions, hallucinations, emotional flattening, and more. The disorder is more severe when in young children and can impact normal childhood development. 

2. How common is schizophrenia in children?

Schizophrenia in young children is quite rare. It is usually detected in the early teens or adolescence period. But there have been cases of children who have exhibited signs at the age of even 7. 

3. How to help a child with schizophrenia?

The key to helping anyone with schizophrenia is to help them seek professional assistance. Regular consultations with a doctor and sticking to the planned treatment regimen can help your child recover and cope with the symptoms of the disorder. 

4. What are the challenges in diagnosing schizophrenia in children?

Diagnosing schizophrenia in children is difficult because of the overlap of symptoms with other disorders, such as autism and ADHD. Children's natural imaginative play and difficulty articulating experiences complicate the process of differentiating the early signs of schizophrenia and normal childhood behavior.

5. What support is available for families of children with schizophrenia?

There are support groups available for parents of children with schizophrenia. Parents can also educate themselves with widely available resources. They can also seek help from a professional to better understand what their kid is facing and how they can help them.

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