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A child's stage of development must be taken into account when considering a diagnosis of mental illness. Behaviors that are normal at one age may not be at another. Rarely, a healthy young child may report strange experiences—such as hearing voices—that would be considered abnormal at a later age. Clinicians look for a more persistent pattern of such behaviors. Parents may have reason for concern if a child of 7 years or older often hears voices saying derogatory things about him or her, or voices conversing with one another, talks to himself or herself, stares at scary things—snakes, spiders, shadows—that are not really there, and shows no interest in friendships. Such behaviors could be signs of schizophrenia , a chronic and disabling form of mental illness.
Fortunately, schizophrenia is rare in children, affecting only about 1 in 40,000, compared to 1 in 100 in adults. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Ranking among the top 10 causes of disability worldwide, schizophrenia, at any age, exacts a heavy toll on patients and their families.
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