Schizophrenia used to be thought of as mainly a childhood disease. At least it was most prevalent in post-pubescent children. It was then called dementia praecox or precocious dementia.
What is different today is that the age of onset of schizophrenia is decreasing. It is also increasing as older individuals are now having psychotic breaks. It should be noted that children are suffering more diseases early in life than ever before, including things like diabetes.
Children with schizophrenia exhibit many of the same symptoms as adults, hallucinations, delusions, ideas of reference, and paranoia. But because the younger child is still developing social skills, ordinary social behavior can be overwhelming and almost impossible to deal with.
Adult schizophrenics often must also be re-socialized and taught to take care of their room and learn basic chores like cooking. Therapy is often directed at successfully completing everyday tasks such as doing laundry, the dishes, and even taking a bus.
For ordinary children, learning these kinds of tasks is the work of years. For those with schizophrenia, such tasks can seem insurmountable. For a schizophrenic child, ordinary social behavior, like eating dinner with the family or trying to function in a regular school, is extremely challenging.
For adult or post puberty schizophrenics most of these skills have already been learned and are somewhat second nature. So the child schizophrenic has more issues, in general, than the adult.
Hallucinations are common to all sufferers of schizophrenia, although all do not suffer hallucinations. And not all experience hallucinations all the time. One of the purposes of anti-psychotic drugs is to decrease hallucinations and delusions.
Are child hallucinations different from those of adults? The hallucinations of adults are quite different from one another. We would expect child hallucinations to be different from adults and also from one another.
One thing we know about children is that nightmares are common to all. It is likely that child hallucinations may take on more sinister aspects than those of adults. Children in general experience more of a sense of powerlessness due to their size and age. For the schizophrenic this is heightened and exacerbated by their age and lack of experience.
The same can be said for delusions. Delusions are very individual and usually tailored to the individual psyche. Some common motifs appear in all age groups. Paranoia is certainly ubiquitous and is sometimes serious enough to put the sufferer into the paranoid schizophrenic category. As mentioned earlier, children tend to be more paranoid anyway because of their size and age. Insecurity is rampant.
Delusions in children tend to be of two opposite types and both can be found in the same child. Delusions tend toward fearful nightmarish scenarios where the child is in danger from unknown people or creatures. Paranoia is heightened because anyone in the child’s life could be part of this dangerous conspiracy to harm them.
Delusions can also go the other way and take the form of a utopia where the child is safe and no harm will come. This kind of delusion can be found in “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.” A child with a comforting delusion is going to be very resistant to letting it go.
Delusions of power are designed offset the fear experienced by the schizophrenic. So you will have adults who think they are Jesus or God. Conversely, some may think they are the devil. All are powerful characters. Children may also take on delusions in which they are powerful adult characters.
Ideas of reference have to do with the child believing that everything going on around them has something to do with them. When other people are talking, even on the TV, it somehow has something to do with them. They are being spoken to or spoken about.
This also often takes a more sinister turn with the child with a still undeveloped ego. Even small threats and dangers seem larger to the schizophrenic child.
Adult schizophrenics often have problems socializing with “normals.” But they are often comfortable among others from their own group. Socializing has the same problems for adult schizophrenics as it does for many of those not labeled as mentally ill.
But for children the socializing skills are undeveloped and they may have problems even with schizophrenic peers. For these children it will often be necessary to take them out of the regular classroom. The stress of dealing with everyday tasks at school can be overwhelming. They don’t even know who they are yet and when their experience of life is so different from others, a great strain is put on their social skills.
Except in the very mildest cases of childhood schizophrenia, these children should be in special classrooms or even home-schooled. Trying to deal with the everyday challenges of life for a child can be difficult enough. To try to do this while coping with a strange and bizarre illness is almost impossible.
As an aside, animal therapy is probably a very good way to go with the schizophrenic child. Therapy with dogs, horses, dolphins, and other animals is a very safe way for an autistic or schizophrenic child to begin to socialize. Eventually, the comfort with animals can be transferred to humans.
For both adults and children, nature is a great healer. Spending time in the outdoors in the woods, lakes and rivers, and the mountains can prove very beneficial. Closer to home or school, working with the earth by planting a garden or even being given the responsibility for a single plant can help bring the schizophrenic out of his/her self-absorbed shell.