Help Us Help Others:

Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness that typically emerges during adolescence, usually in the late teenage years.

What is schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that causes those afflicted to lose their grip on reality. Schizophrenics have trouble distinguishing between the thoughts in their head and real-world conditions. For example, a schizophrenic might become convinced that there’s a government plot to read his mind, then hide from the mailman because he assumes the mailman is really a government agent in disguise. Or they might misinterpret everyday cues. A schizophrenic who spots a man with binoculars may weave together a narrative where the man is a spy sent to surveil him, becoming convinced of this reality, when in truth the man is just a bird watcher out for a Sunday stroll.

All of us have an active imagination; we’re regularly playing around with thoughts in our head and imagining different possible scenarios. The schizophrenic mind has trouble discerning these internal ruminations from real-world conditions. Their brain is likely to jump to conclusions, settling on the first wild thought they have without exploring others. Schizophrenics may also experience audio or visual hallucinations, seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there. They may register the thoughts in their head as actual voices, as if someone were actually speaking to them. Because of these things, schizophrenics find it difficult to function in society.

Schizophrenia in grade school children

Schizophrenia in preteen children is extremely rare – so rare, in fact, that many experts question whether it can even exist in kids so young. Across the entire United States the number of prepubescent children diagnosed with schizophrenia probably numbers in the hundreds or low thousands. The diagnosis of schizophrenia in kids this young is extremely controversial. One reason for this is that many of the symptoms typical of schizophrenia (eccentric beliefs, magical thinking, an overactive imagination, difficulty distinguishing between reality and fantasy, and so on) are normal attributes of childhood.

We wouldn’t want to go around diagnosing every child with an imaginary friend as schizophrenic. It’s also a lot harder to discern whether symptoms are authentic in kids this age. Preteen children are highly suggestible and influenced by things they might see on TV, and some of the ways kids might naturally cry out for attention (inventing stories, forming imaginary companions, saying things intended to shock adults, and so on) can be misinterpreted for schizophrenia. A child with a history of attachment trauma, for example, may manifest this internal pain through odd behavior that attracts concern from adults.

My gut feeling is that there probably are authentic cases of schizophrenia in elementary school children, but that these cases are extremely rare and thus vastly outnumbered by instances of false diagnosis. If a young child is diagnosed with schizophrenia or is exhibiting symptoms typical of the disease, you want to be extremely cautious with this label and regularly revisit this assumption.

Early onset schizophrenia
When a younger child is exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, it is usually referred to as “early onset schizophrenia.” This is a rather loosely used term that basically means, ‘we think a child is schizophrenic and is starting to exhibit some of the symptoms, but we’re not really sure.’ The ‘early onset’ label would apply to preteen kids and those in early adolescence.

Schizophrenia in teens

Schizophrenia typically emerges in mid-to late-adolescence or early adulthood, so parents are most likely to notice signs of something wrong during their child’s teenage years. Though the average age of onset for schizophrenia is 20.5 years, you sometimes see it as early as 14 or 15 years of age. It can come on suddenly or progressively reveal itself. Sometimes it is disguised by the normal tumultuousness that comes with adolescence.

See also…

Help Us Help Others: