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Mental Illness Guide: Care, Support, and Education
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Will my children get schizophrenia?

Do children get schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is rarely seen in children younger than 12.  It usually appears between the ages of 12 and 35.  It is more common in children who have a parent with the illness.

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If a child has one parent with the illness, the child has about a 13% chance of getting the illness.

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If a child has two parents with the illness, the child has about a 35% chance of getting the illness.

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If neither parent has the illness, the child has about a 1% chance of getting the illness.

How do children with schizophrenia behave?

The behavior of children with schizophrenia may differ from that of adults with this illness.  Doctors look for several of the following early warning signs in youngsters with schizophrenia:

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Seeing things and hearing voices which are not real.  These are called hallucinations.

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Odd and peculiar behavior or speech.

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Unusual or bizarre thoughts and ideas.

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Confusing television and dreams with reality.

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Confused thinking.

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Extreme moodiness.

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Ideas that people are "out to get them," or talking about them.

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Behaving much younger than their age.

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Severe anxiety and fearfulness.

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Difficulty relating to other children and keeping friends.

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Being withdrawn and having an increased desire to be alone.

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Decline in personal hygiene.

The behavior of children with schizophrenia may change slowly over time.  For example, children who used to enjoy friendships with others may start to become more shy or withdrawn and seem to be in their own world.

Sometimes youngsters will begin talking about strange fears and ideas, such as fears that people are out to get them or that their teachers keep changing shape. They may start to cling to parents.  They may start to say things that do not make much sense.  These early problems may first be noticed by the child's parents or school teachers.

What to do if you think your child has schizophrenia

Children with the problems listed above must have a complete evaluation.  Usually these children need comprehensive treatment plans involving professionals.  A combination of medication and individual therapy, family therapy, and specialized programs (school, activities, etc.) is often necessary.  Psychiatric medication can be helpful for many of the symptoms and problems identified.  These medications require careful monitoring by a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of children and teens.

Parents whose children exhibit many of the behaviors listed here and who suspect that their child is becoming seriously ill should ask their family physician or pediatrician to refer them to a child psychiatrist who is specifically trained and skilled at evaluating, diagnosing, and treating children with schizophrenia.

What causes schizophrenia in children?

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. The cause of schizophrenia is not known, although current research suggests that brain changes, biochemical, genetic and environmental factors all may play a role.  Families can comfort themselves by knowing that even though there is no cure for schizophrenia, it can be controlled, usually with medication.  Many people with schizophrenia are able to live independent and productive lives.