Early onset schizophrenia is a rare form of schizophrenia that develops before a child is 17 years old. Schizophrenia is a severe brain disorder that involves problems with thinking, behavior and emotions. Schizophrenia symptoms generally start in the late teens to the mid-30s. Early-onset schizophrenia begins in children younger than age 17. Very early-onset schizophrenia in children younger than age 13 is very rare. Early onset schizophrenia has a significant impact on a child’s behavior and development. Symptoms may build up gradually and may be hard to identify. The earliest signs of schizophrenia in children under 13 may include language delays, late crawling, late walking or abnormal movements. These symptoms may also suggest other conditions including pervasive developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders. Symptoms of schizophrenia developing between ages 13-17 may include withdrawal from friends and family, trouble sleeping, depression, lack of motivation and strange behavior. Unfortunately many of these symptoms may also be present during typical teenage development. As children and teens age, later symptoms become more typical of adult schizophrenia and may include hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking, and abnormal motor behavior. Teenagers are more likely to experience visual hallucinations and less likely to have delusions than adults.
Schizophrenia is believed to be caused by both genetics and environment. To diagnose schizophrenia, a physician will ask about medical, psychiatric and school performance history and may use imaging tests, such as MRIs, to look for abnormalities of the brain. Schizophrenia requires lifelong treatment by a psychiatrist and therapist. Treatment for childhood schizophrenia may include medications, individual and family therapy, social and academic skills training. Support groups are also a good resource for information and connecting to other families.