Schizophrenia is a crippling, chronic and very complex disease. This disorder rarely appears during childhood.
Childhood schizophreniaAlthough it is part of the spectrum of schizophrenia, it is given a specific name because the children who suffer from it present a very homogeneous picture with an unfavorable prognosis which must be diagnosed as early as possible to curb the patient’s clinical worsening.
These children, who like adults suffer from hallucinations and delusions, also have brain abnormalities and genetic risk factors that explain the early development of the disease.
Childhood schizophrenia clinic
Most cases of childhood schizophrenia they are diagnosed by the presence of hallucinations, A very striking symptom.
however, this is not the only symptom these boys and girls have. As with schizophrenia in adulthood, the psychotic picture of schizophrenics is very diverse and includes different symptoms, both psychotic and disorganized.
1. Psychotic symptoms
The main cause of parental vigilance is the presence of hallucinations. The most common are auditory hallucinations such as unpleasant and negative voices that speak to the patient or they tell him. Voices can be masculine or feminine, familiar or unfamiliar, critical or flattering. Sounds, noises or music are considered less frequent and less serious.
It is also possible to find visual hallucinations, seeing shapes, colors or people who are not present and who may even have religious characteristics, for example, seeing the devil or Christ.
Another psychotic manifestation is the presence of delusions. A delirium is an unfounded and rigid belief that the patient clings to like a lifeline, the content is unlikely or very hard to believe. For example, delusions of persecution where the patient believes he is the victim of a conspiracy, that someone is spying on him, etc.
Children are very imaginative individuals, which is why it is very easy to confuse delusions and fantasies which can be more or less extravagant depending on the creativity of the little one. Likewise, ideas like “my parents can read my mind” may well be delusions or the product of an innocent, gullible mind. Good clinical judgment is crucial at this point.
2. Symptoms of disorganization
In childhood schizophrenia we find extravagant behaviors, for example unusual preferences with food, Strange social behavior, strange or illogical speech. Once again, it is necessary to separate the own incoherence of the infantile discourse from the illogicality which does not correspond to the evolutionary level of the child.
Of all the disorganizing manifestations of childhood schizophrenia, the most frequent are motor and social. Before the diagnosis, it is common for parents to talk about strange gestures, faces or postures that anticipate the development of the disorder. In addition, these children are socially rare. It can be difficult to have a conversation with other children, to express ideas, to talk about extravagant topics and to lose the thread of the dialogue. They are generally described as “rare” by the rest of their peers.
Causes of childhood schizophrenia
Although the direct cause for the development of childhood schizophrenia is unknown, we know of several risk factors associated with this disorder.
Have first-degree relatives with schizophrenia increases the likelihood of having this disorder, so there is a genetic load in their development. The presence of other comorbid disorders, such as anxiety disorders, ADHD or behavioral disorders, usually accompanies childhood schizophrenia. It is also found that in families of children with this disorder, emotions are expressed more intensely.
Several studies describe how the complications during childbirth can lead to abnormalities in neurological development and subsequently in schizophrenia. Importantly, complications that involve cutting off the flow of oxygen to the brain and causing hypoxia have been linked to the later development of the disorder, although the exact mechanism is not at all clear.
In these children, the lateral ventricles of the brain widen. In addition, they gradually lose gray matter in the frontal and temporal regions of the brain, as adults do. This way, patients with childhood schizophrenia have a lower brain volume than the normal population.
Prognosis and treatment
The age at which schizophrenia begins is a very powerful indicator of its severity and prognosis. Rather, people who develop schizophrenia will have a greater affectation and therefore a worse prognosis. They are expected to be more impaired thinking, language, motor skills, and social behavior than those who debuted later.
Therefore, childhood schizophrenia predicts a poor prognosis for those who suffer from it unless diagnosed on time. This makes the assessment of possible childhood schizophrenia a race against time where the professional must be thorough, but not go too fast and mark a child for life.
Once it is determined that the child indeed has schizophrenia in infancy, pharmacological treatment with antipsychotics will be started immediately for cushion the deterioration caused by the disorder as much as possible. In addition, it will be necessary to educate parents on the type of symptoms they can expect, how they are being treated, and what special needs the child may have in the future.
At the same time, they psychologically treat delusions and hallucinations by teaching the child to recognize them as such. Often times, psychotic symptoms are preceded by negative moods and it is possible to notice when you are in a vulnerable time. In addition, it is imperative teach these patients to make alternative interpretations of the facts get out of the rigidity that characterizes delusions.
Finally, it is possible to address the social behavior of the schizophrenic child by training in social skills to teach him to relate in a normal way to others and to be able to establish meaningful bonds with his classmates.