Schizophrenia is not a well-understood disorder, but it is one that humans have been dealing with for a very long time.
Although schizophrenia usually sets in between the ages of 18 and 25, it can set in during childhood as well. About 1 in 400,000 children (as compared to about 1 in 100 adults) will develop the illness, and this can have profound educational and social implications.
Children with schizophrenia have problems managing everyday life. They can have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions. They can lose developmentally appropriate social and personal care skills. Because of this, as well as their withdrawal and flattened emotions, they could become victims of bullying.
Childhood schizophrenia can sometimes be mistaken for autism or another pervasive developmental disability. Sometimes due to inability to pay attention and impaired memory, it can also be misdiagnosed as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
On the other hand, children who have been victims of abuse sometimes hear the voice of or see visions of their abuser and are mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Unlike adult-onset schizophrenia, which sometimes begins as an acute psychotic episode, it comes on gradually in children, often preceded by developmental disturbances like lags in motor and speech and language development. Childhood-onset schizophrenia shares many symptoms with the adult-onset version of the disease, but the symptoms emerge prior to age 12.
One odd fact about schizophrenia is apparently the illness only evolved in humans after we diverged from Neanderthals on the evolutionary tree. By comparing human and Neanderthal genomes, we’ve found that the genetic risk loci associated with schizophrenia don’t seem to appear in parts of the genome that the two species share.
How did this come about? The researchers who figured out when the disease evolved think it’s a side effect of developing a complex brain. It’s possible that the complexity that caused us to evolve speech and language came with genes that caused psychoses.
How do you help a child with schizophrenia? It’s important that they be compliant with medications, and school nursing staff needs to make sure the child takes their medication as directed. An individual education plan may need to be set up to help the child cope with developmental delays caused by the disease.
It’s crucial to involve parents or guardians in IEPs and work together with them to provide a good and appropriate educational experience.