Schizophrenia in Children

What is schizophrenia in children?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. It is a long-lasting and disabling problem of the brain. A child with this disorder has unusual behavior and strange feelings. He or she may suddenly start to have psychotic symptoms. Psychotic means having strange ideas, thoughts, or feelings that are not based in reality.

Schizophrenia is not often found in children younger than age 12. It's also hard to spot in the early stages. Often, the psychotic symptoms start in the middle to late teen years. Slightly more boys develop it in childhood. But by the teen years it affects both boys and girls equally.

What causes schizophrenia in a child?

Schizophrenia has no single cause. A combination of genes from both parents plays a role. So do unknown environmental factors. Experts believe that a child has to inherit a chemical imbalance in the brain to develop it.

Which children are at risk for schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia tends to run in families. A child who has a family member with the disorder has a greater chance of developing it.

What are the symptoms of schizophrenia in a child?

Behavior changes may occur slowly, over time. Or they may start suddenly. The child may slowly become more shy and withdrawn. He or she may start to talk about odd ideas or fears and start to cling more to parents.

Each child’s symptoms may vary. Early warning signs are:

  • Trouble telling dreams from reality (distorted view of reality)
  • Confused thinking, such as confusing TV with reality
  • Detailed and bizarre thoughts and ideas
  • Fear or belief that someone or something is going to harm him or her
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not real, such as hearing voices (hallucinations)
  • Ideas that seem real but are not based in reality (delusions)
  • Extreme moodiness
  • Lots of anxiety or fear
  • Lack of emotional expression when speaking
  • Trouble doing schoolwork or a drop in levels of school success
  • Social withdrawal, such as having problems making and keeping friends
  • Sudden agitation and confusion
  • Disorganized behavior, such as doing private things in public. Or catatonic behavior, such as sitting and staring, as if the child can’t move.
  • Odd behaviors, such as an older child acting like he or she is much younger

Children with schizophrenia have the same symptoms as adults with the condition. But more children hear voices. Children also don’t tend to have delusions or formal thought problems until they are in their teens or older.

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is schizophrenia diagnosed in a child?

A child with symptoms of schizophrenia needs a thorough medical and mental health evaluation. Talk with your child's healthcare provider if you are concerned about symptoms your child is having. A child psychiatrist or other qualified mental health expert can diagnose schizophrenia in children and teens. He or she does a mental health evaluation to figure out how best to treat the child.

How is schizophrenia treated in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Schizophrenia is a major mental illness. Treatment is complex. A child often needs a combination of therapies to meet the specific needs. Treatment is aimed at easing symptoms. It may include the following.


The doses and types of medicines may need to be adjusted from time to time so they can keep working well. Your child may be given:

  • Medicines to help reduce delusions and hallucinations (antipsychotics). This special class of medicines can reduce symptoms or reduce how severe the symptoms are. But they don’t cure schizophrenia.
  • Mood stabilizing medicines. Examples are lithium and valproic acid, especially in the early stages of the illness.

Other treatment

  • Individual and family therapy. This may include supportive, thinking, and behavioral therapy.
  • Specialized educational or structured activity programs. These may include social skills training, vocational training, and speech and language therapy.
  • Self-help and support groups. These can help the child learn ways to cope with the disorder and also work on social skills.

How can I help prevent schizophrenia in my child?

Experts don’t know how to prevent schizophrenia. But early diagnosis and treatment can improve a child’s quality of life. Treatment works best when early symptoms are dealt with quickly.

How can I help my child live with schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that will require your support, patience, and attention. You are your child’s best advocate. Here are things you can do to help:

  • Keep all appointments with your child’s healthcare provider. Talk with your child’s provider about referring your child to a psychiatrist with experience evaluating and treating children with schizophrenia.
  • Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about other providers who will be involved in your child’s care. Your child may get care from a team that may include experts like psychiatrists, counselors, therapists, psychologists, and social workers. Your child’s care team will depend on his or her needs and how serious the schizophrenia is.
  • Tell others about your child’s schizophrenia. Work with your child’s healthcare provider and school to develop a treatment plan.
  • Take care of yourself. Schizophrenia is a difficult disease. You may feel overwhelmed or stressed out. Being in touch with other parents who have a child with schizophrenia may be helpful. Talk with your child’s healthcare provider about a support group for caregivers of children with schizophrenia or seek counseling.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Civil Rights Act help ensure that public school meets your child's educational needs . Talk with your child’s teacher and school principal about reasonable accommodations so your child can be successful in school.

  • Take all symptoms of depression and suicide very seriously. Seek treatment right away. Suicide is a health emergency.

Online Medical Reviewer: Paul Ballas MD

Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN

Online Medical Reviewer: L Renee Watson MSN RN

Date Last Reviewed: 3/1/2019

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