November 16, 2003

Introduction & FAQs

Last Updated: 18 Feb 2007
Authored By: Jeanie Wolfson

Welcome to the (early) Childhood-onset Schizophrenia Weblog. We add information to this area as we learn it. Check back regularly for new information.

Disclaimer: No information given here is meant to replace consultations with, nor diagnoses by, medical professionals. It is NOT to be construed as medical advice.

What is childhood-onset Schizophrenia?
Childhood onset schizophrenia is a pediatric neurobiological brain disorder whose symptoms begin before puberty. The most common symptoms are sensory hallucinations, delusional thinking, and cognitive problems. In children, there is a high comorbidity of learning disorders, mood disorders, attentional problems, sleep problems, tic disorders (Tourette's syndrome).
Commonly, problems are seen at or shortly after birth. For this reason, as with autism, it is with increasing frequency that medical professionals and scientists refer to childhood, or early childhood-onset schizophrenia as a developmental disorder.

Isn't childhood-onset Schizophrenia a mental illness?
The "mental" vs "medical" labels are at the core of public confusion about schizophrenia in general. The term "mental" is equated with "emotional" or psychological. This neurobiological brain disorder is neither "emotional" nor "psychological" in origin. In this respect, it is not "mental".

The confusion arises because severe emotional disturbances can occur in young, genetically predisposed children due to severe psychological stressors such as in cases of severe abuse or neglect.

The confusion may clear up when better diagnostic testing becomes available, such as blood tests, tests of Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), EEG, or MRIs. Protein Biomarkers for Schizophrenia Studied in Cerebrospinal Fluid is an interesting study of a potential test for schizophrenia with a sensitivity (the probability that a symptom is present given that the person has the disease - also known as the true positive rate) between 80-88 percent, and the specificity (the true negative rate) was 95%. That is NOT shabby!

Unfortunately, such diagnostic tests are not yet available in medical practice. For now, diagnosis is made by a psychiatrist based on symptoms after all other known medical causes have been ruled out. The problem with this, is that there are many possible known medical causes for symptoms matching those of schizophrenia, and usually, very few of these known medical causes are actually tested for.

Is my child at risk for developing Schizophrenia?

Keep in mind that NO CHILD IS A STATISTIC. NO CHILD IS A DIAGNOSIS, AND NO CHILD IS A PROGNOSIS. Also, even if your child DOES have Schizophrenia, do not expect all symptoms to match!!!!

The possible early symptoms listed at this site are a composite! For instance - the "low verbal IQ"... this is STATISTICALLY. Although some of our children do have a "low verbal IQ", many of our children do NOT have a "low verbal IQ", and some even test out as "highly gifted" in verbal communication.

Risk Factors

It is very likely that Schizophrenia is several diseases all being lumped under one label. There are hereditary components, but some seem more hereditary than others.

Influencing whether or not a person gets Schizophrenia are factors such as genetics, whether or not the mother got a viral illness or was subjected to extreme psychological trauma (such as surviving a devastating earthquake) during a certain stage of pregnancy, the age of the father (older fathers tend to produce more offspring with Schizophrenia), and even how much oxygen and nutrition the fetus got, which may be part of the reason one of a pair of identical twins will get the illness, and the other will not.

Genetic Chances of YOUR child getting Schizophrenia:

o A person's risk even if no known family member has Schizophrenia is 1%.
(So, look around at your child's school. If there are 500 students at that school, at least 5 of those children will someday develop this disorder.)
o Chances increase for a positive family history for other neurobiological brain disorders such as bipolar disorder, and depression.
o Chances if you or the other parent has it: 13%
o Chances with both you AND the other parent have Schizophrenia: 36%
o Chances if one of YOUR parents (you child's grandparent) has it: 4%
o Chances if a sibling of yours (your child's aunt or uncle) has it: 3%

What should I watch out for?

Early Symptoms of Schizophrenia

Early indications that a person MAY develop Schizophrenia (but do NOT mean the person WILL) include:

Clumsiness or awkward gait as a child.
Delayed early verbal abilities, or low verbal IQ,
Non-smooth eye-tracking
Withdrawn, seclusive
Chronic Insomnia
Oversensitive or undersensitive to external stimuli such as to sounds, touch, taste, and smells.

Even with older children, watch out for the same things you would watch out for in ANYBODY....

Becoming overly withdrawn from family and peers,
Sleeping too much or sleeping too little,
Frequent "staring into space" spells or episodes of immobility
Difficulty concentrating
Excessive pacing & agitation
Overly aggressive
Overly Fearful
Hours of "tantrums"

Be aware that some of the above symptom list can also mean the child is under too much stress, suffers anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar mood disorder, seizure disorder, thyroid problems, hypothalmic dysfunction, Sensory Integration Disorder (SID), Cushings Disorder, Kleine-Levin Syndrome (KLS), PANDAS, severe OCD, other neurological conditions, etc. It does not necessarily mean Schizophrenia, but it still should be looked into.

Does my child have Schizophrenia?

Prior to Diagnosis
Before a diagnosis of Schizophrenia, the following neurological and endocrinological exams should have been made:

o 1 to 3 EEGs (Rule out seizure disorders - ie Temporal Lobe seizures which do NOT cause "convulsions")
o Brain MRI

o Thyroid function to rule out hypothyroid and hyperthyroid (see: Hypothyroidism and Psychiatric Illness and Lingering Psychiatric Symptoms May be Due to Hyperthyroidism
o Pituitary function (rule out Cushing's Syndrome and others)

o Full check-up, check for yeast, strep (PANDAS) nutritional eval, allergy eval, etc.

If all the above test are normal, and all other neurological/endocrinological disorders have been ruled-out, then (in an ideal world) a psychiatrist would make sure that the symptoms do NOT match that for bipolar disorder, or an autistic-spectrum illness, would treat for any mood disorder, if any is present, and lastly, a diagnosis of Schizophrenia would be made.

There are MANY early childhood "symptoms" shared between Early Onset Bipolar Disorder (EOBD) and Childhood Onset Schizophrenia(COS). Many kids have Schizoaffective Disorder and important information for both can be found both on, as well as on the CABF website (Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation) at Also, a lot of useful information about the use of atypicals and mood stabilizers can be found at Posted by Jeanie Wolfson at November 16, 2003 07:56 PM