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.
Early Onset Schizophrenia: What is it?
Childhood Schizophrenia or early-onset schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition that affects how a child thinks, feels, and behaves. It usually develops between the age of 13 and 18 years. However, mental health professionals have identified its signs in younger children as well- those cases being extremely rare.
The current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists down the same criteria to diagnose 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 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, if you notice these signs, it is advisable that you consult with your doctor.
Some early symptoms of schizophrenia include:
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 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.
Characterised by an inability to speak, move or respond to the environment adequately. The child may showcase flat affect or get excited even when a stimulus is not present. 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.
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
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
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 prescribe 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 stemmed 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.
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 are provided with 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. Not only will your child be safe, but 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 wellbeing.
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 difficult, 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.
How do we 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 that are all 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.