Schizophrenia is classified as a lifelong psychiatric disorder that alters how individuals feels, thinks, and behaves. Usually, early warning signs, such as hallucinations and delusions not otherwise seen in healthy people, begin to develop before the first severe episode. These severe episodes are also known as psychosis.
Although both men and women are equally likely to suffer from this condition, men tend to develop symptoms slightly earlier. On average, men are diagnosed between their late teens and early twenties. For women, it tends to be in their late twenties or early thirties. It is rare for someone to develop schizophrenia before the age of 12 or after the age of 40. A person’s age at the time of the onset of schizophrenia may influence the symptoms that person experiences. Early warning signs are experienced during the prodromal stage. Schizophrenia may develop over several months or years, and its first signs vary according to the age at which it begins.
Early Onset Schizophrenia
A person diagnosed with early-onset schizophrenia (EOS) before the age of 18 is said to have early-onset schizophrenia. This disorder is extremely rare, with an estimated prevalence of 0.23 percent. Rarer still, the disease can occur in very young children. When a child is diagnosed with schizophrenia before the age of 13, it is known as childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS). The National Institute of Mental Health states that about one in every 40,000 children have COS. Most children do not develop COS before the age of 10.
Signs in Childhood
A person diagnosed with schizophrenia early in life may have greater developmental issues than someone diagnosed later in their life. There are a few signs and symptoms that are common among those that have been diagnosed with schizophrenia in childhood. The first sign parents or guardians may notice is delayed motor development. Children that are diagnosed with schizophrenia usually do not learn to walk until over 18 months old. The second early sign of schizophrenia is delayed speech development such as not being able to structure sentences and severely limited vocabulary until over 36 months old. Another common sign is delayed social development at an early age. Children that have been diagnosed with schizophrenia generally have a hard time understanding and properly using body language and facial expressions.
It is important to note that these symptoms are not necessarily related to schizophrenia. Instead, they may have a completely different origin. However, early recognition, diagnosis, and treatment can go a long way in improving the quality of life a patient with schizophrenia will experience. That is why it is imperative that guardians and childcare workers know and recognize the signs and symptoms.
Signs in Adolescence
Before schizophrenia emerges, adolescents often develop changes in their behavior. The result is that they are more likely to struggle in school, a common complaint among teens diagnosed with schizophrenia. Some of the common symptoms associated with these behavior changes include the following: Difficulty concentrating and paying attention, unexplained functional decline, increased introversion, loneliness, depression, aggression, suicidal ideation, theft, and bizarre behaviors. Many of the early signs and symptoms of schizophrenia are common during childhood development, making it difficult to diagnose schizophrenia in adolescents. For example, a normal part of childhood is having a vivid imagination and fantasies. In some cases, these fantasies can be misunderstood as hallucinations despite being typical childhood behaviors. Behavioral changes and some degree of moodiness are common in all teenagers, especially after and around puberty, often making it difficult for parents and educators to see the symptoms of schizophrenia developing.
Due to schizophrenia’s tendency to develop gradually, it can be challenging to identify when or whether changes in behavior are something to worry about. When you observe a pattern of concerning behavior, you may wish to seek professional help. Symptoms of schizophrenia often intensify before an acute psychotic episode. Some warning signs you can look out for includes:
- A sudden drop in job performance or grades
- Uneasiness or suspiciousness when around others or alone
- Strange feelings, or no feelings at all
- Socially withdrawing/spending an abnormal amount of time alone
- New challenges thinking clearly and concentrating
- A new difficulty with telling reality from fantasies
- A quick decline of personal hygiene and self-care
- Troubled communication with those around them
Although these symptoms seem harmless by themselves, if you or someone you love are experiencing any of these symptoms, please contact a mental health professional for a screening. Many of those with Schizophrenia have a hard time understanding that their perception isn’t reality, so it is key that you watch out for these signs and seek help immediately.
Getting the Proper Treatment
If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Life Adjustment Team can help. Assertive community treatment and outpatient rehabilitation services like LAT’s Intensive Outpatient Program significantly improve treatment outcomes for people living with schizophrenia.