Trisha and Mike thought they’d feel relieved once they finally had a diagnosis for the source of their 14-year-old daughter’s bizarre behavior. However, they weren’t prepared for the stress involved in deciding on the best treatment options for childhood schizophrenia. Nor did they have a clue about how the illness would disrupt family life.
Overview of Childhood Schizophrenia
Day-to-day life can become tough for a child with childhood schizophrenia. Doctors also refer to this disorder as childhood-onset schizophrenia and early-onset schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia diagnoses in children are often hard to make because youngsters are unable to communicate well. The symptoms are sometimes so general that parents, teachers and even pediatricians can’t really articulate them. Fortunately, childhood schizophrenia is rare, according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. However, it sometimes appears in children as young as six.
The illness has no known cause, though researchers suspect a connection among changes to the patient’s brain, genetic and environmental factors and bio-chemical issues. The Mayo Clinic indicates that many individuals often begin to slowly show symptoms as they age. Many suffer from hallucinations – especially nonexistent voices – as well delusions. What they say and do sometimes makes sense to no one. Everyday activities like interacting with other children, going to school or even taking a bath can become difficult.
It usually takes a team of medical professionals to diagnose and treat childhood schizophrenia. The symptoms resemble those of conditions like depression, substance abuse or bipolar disorder. There is no cure.
The typical path to diagnosis starts with an exam by a pediatrician, who refers the child to a mental-health practitioner, usually a child and adolescent psychiatrist. Additional members of the treatment team might include social workers, case workers, pharmacists, psychotherapists and psychiatric nurses. Most affected children receive three types of treatment for their illness:
Medications. Antipsychotic medications are the anchor of treatment. However, these drugs have potentially serious side effects. Parents sometimes experience extreme stress in trying to decide which drugs represent the best options for their child. This is partially because children sometimes react differently than adults do to the same medications.
Most doctors initially try drugs called second-generation antipsychotics on children. The specific class is known as atypical antipsychotic medications. Although this group tends to have fewer side effects than other drugs do, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved two for childhood schizophrenia in patients aged 13 to 17: Risperidone (brand name: Risperdal) and Aripiprazole (Abilify). These drugs excel at controlling symptoms like hallucination, delusion, flat emotions and lack of motivation. Among the possible side effects are weight gain, diabetes and high cholesterol.
A second type of drugs, first-generation antipsychotics, also manages delusions and hallucinations well. These medications are also called conventional or typical antipsychotics. Experts cite more serious side effects, however. They include involuntary movements of the patient’s hands, limbs, face and tongue. Because of this, doctors seldom use these medications as an initial treatment.
A benefit of individual therapy is learning to cope with the challenges of everyday life linked to childhood schizophrenia. Therapy also reinforces the importance to sticking to a treatment plan.
Family therapy is often helpful in terms of both education and support. It helps family members communicate more effectively and understand conflicts. It can help to reduce stress levels in every family member.
Most children concurrently receive training in social and academic skills. This helps them overcome problems with everyday tasks.
Parents need to be certain their schizophrenic child doesn’t use drugs or alcohol. This might require substance abuse treatment.
It’s essential for family members to help the child take all medications exactly as prescribed, even when no symptoms are obvious. Interrupting medication makes it difficult for a doctor to determine the best treatment option when signs of the illness reappear.
Families should have a plan to handle symptoms when a relapse occurs. It should include notifying the treating physician immediately.
The best treatment options for childhood schizophrenia are effective only when all doctors involved are aware of every medication prescribed. This includes over-the-counter medications, supplements, vitamins and minerals. All of these have the potential of interacting with schizophrenia medications.