Signs, Symptoms, & Causes of Schizophrenia

The first step to getting help is recognizing the problem. If you’re concerned your child or teenager may be suffering from schizophrenia, learn more about the signs and symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Schizophrenia

Learn about schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a serious mental health disorder that has an impact on all areas of a child or adolescent’s life. It is a complicated disorder that causes children and adolescents to experience hallucinations, delusions, and distorted thinking. While schizophrenia in childhood is similar to adult schizophrenia, there are some variations. With children and adolescents, there may be a gradual shift in behavior patterns. For example they may go from having predictable behaviors to displaying unpredictably bad behaviors. Children with schizophrenia tend to constantly stick to their parents, do not enjoy playing with or talking to other children, lose interest in most activities, and have difficulty with school.  Treatment is available for children and adolescents suffering from Schizophrenia and their lives can greatly improve the sooner they are diagnosed and treatment begins.


Schizophrenia statistics

It has been estimated that schizophrenia affects 1% of the American population. Up until recently, schizophrenia was not diagnosed in children and adolescents. However, there has been growing awareness of the fact that schizophrenia can present its onset in childhood, with children younger than 5 years old having been documented as experiencing symptoms. Fortunately, being diagnosed with schizophrenia as a child is rare, with only 1 in 40,000 children experiencing the onset of symptoms before the age of 13.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for schizophrenia in children and teens

The exact cause of childhood schizophrenia is not known, but it seems that many children develop schizophrenia in the same ways as adult schizophrenia. It is also not clear why some individuals develop schizophrenia early in life, while others develop it much later. The most commonly noted factors that are believed to play a role in the development of schizophrenia include:

Genetic: Schizophrenia is known to run in families, which leads professionals to believe that there is a strong genetic component in its development. While schizophrenia is said to only affect 1% of the U.S. population, an estimated 10% of those individuals have a first-degree relative who suffers from the disorder as well. Scientists have found that people with schizophrenia have higher rates of rare genetic mutations that disrupt the development of their brains.

Physical: It has been suggested by professionals in the field that people who suffer from schizophrenia have an imbalance of the neurotransmitters dopamine and glutamate, which are responsible for allowing brain cells to communicate with one another. Problems with these naturally occurring neurotransmitters may contribute to the development of childhood schizophrenia

Environmental: Experts in the field have noted that there are likely many environmental factors that come into play in regards to the development of schizophrenia, but the most commonly noted are malnutrition before birth, exposure to viruses prenatally, and problems during the birthing process.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of schizophrenia or psychosis
  • Family history of other mental illnesses
  • Malnutrition or exposure to viruses or toxins before birth
  • Existence of autoimmune diseases
  • Taking mind-altering substances
  • Having an older father

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of schizophrenia in children and teens

The signs and symptoms of schizophrenia in children and adolescents tend to be different depending upon the age of the child. When schizophrenia begins in early life, the symptoms may build gradually. The initial signs and symptoms may be so vague that parents don’t know what is wrong. As time goes on, symptoms may become more severe and noticeable. Some of these symptoms may include:

Early signs and symptoms:

  • Language delays
  • Late or unusual crawling
  • Late walking
  • Other abnormal motor behaviors, such as rocking or arm flapping

Symptoms in teenagers:

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Drop in school performance
  • Lack of motivation
  • Irritable or depressed mood
  • Strange behaviors
  • More likely to have visual hallucinations and less likely to have delusions

Later signs and symptoms: As children with schizophrenia age, the more typical signs and symptoms will appear.

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized thinking and speech
  • Abnormal motor behavior
  • Negative symptoms such as lacking emotions or not making eye contact


Effects of schizophrenia in children and teens

If left untreated, childhood schizophrenia can result in severe emotional, behavioral, and health problems. These complications may occur in childhood or can occur later in life. The effects of schizophrenia can range from minor to severe and may include the following:

  • Inability to attend school or work
  • Inability to perform daily activities like bathing
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Self-injury
  • Anxiety and phobias
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Family conflicts
  • Inability to live independently
  • Health problems
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Suicide

Co-Occurring Disorders

Schizophrenia and co-occurring disorders

Children and adolescents who suffer from schizophrenia may also suffer from symptoms of other mental health disorders as well. The most prominent type of co-occurring disorder is substance abuse and addiction, but other examples can include:

  • Schizotypal disorder
  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Paranoid personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)