Schizophrenia is a rare but severe medical illness that usually manifests in adulthood. But the onset and its early warning signs may appear during childhood and adolescence.
Diagnosing schizophrenia is very difficult because of its rare manifestation in children under age 13, and because the symptoms are similar to autism and conduct disorder. Ruling out the latter disorders, which are more common among children, is the first step to a prognosis for schizophrenia. Some early indications of the disease are language delays, unusual motor behaviors, and hearing voices that are not real.
The disease progresses in puberty, at which point an adolescent may recognize that their experiences are a cause for concern. Signs of a developing psychosis are hallucinations, disorganized thinking or bizarre thoughts, paranoia, severe anxiety, confusing movies or dreams from reality, increased isolation, and difficulty in focusing.
Children and adolescents showing these symptoms must be evaluated by a specialist immediately for early diagnosis. The disease can be managed with medication, individual and family therapy, specialized programs, and life skills training.
Dr. Jonathan Lauter is a certified psychiatrist and a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He runs a private practice in Manhattan and holds a clinic at the Refuah Health Center in Spring Valley, New York. For more articles on child and adolescent mental health, subscribe here.