Parenting a Schizophrenic Child: How To Identify the Symptoms


A diagnosis of schizophrenia can be terrifying, particularly if the person you’re concerned about is your own child. A brain disorder known to affect around one percent of all Americans, schizophrenia is a chronic, debilitating disorder that as yet, has no cure.

Looking for Answers

Much about schizophrenia is unknown, but scientific research into its cause and treatment remain ongoing. Many current treatments exist which are able to significantly diminish symptoms and support those afflicted to create and maintain happy lives.  

Schizophrenia runs in families, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). An organization which runs clinical trials and funds research studies about the disorder, NIMH estimates that 10 percent of individuals with a close relative, such as a parent or sibling with schizophrenia, will go on to manifest the disorder themselves.

Statistically, schizophrenia affects all ethnic groups equally and occurs in men and women at the same rate. Symptoms typically start to appear in teens and young adults between the ages of 16 and 30, although occasionally, children show symptoms much earlier.

Scientific research points to a combination of genetics and environmental factors as being culprits in schizophrenia’s cause, although no one gene has been identified as being at fault. For this reason, genetic scanning tests are ineffective diagnostic tools for the disorder. People with schizophrenia may be born with a differing brain chemistry or structure than people without the disorder. Early viral exposure, both in utero and after birth, may play a role as may early emotional trauma, such as the loss of a parent or childhood sexual abuse.

Looking for Clues

If your child is manifesting behaviors which concern you, it is natural to spend time wondering why this is happening and thinking about what caused it in the first place. There is, of course, no way to go back and change history or biology. You can, however, determine if specific symptoms are in place and if so, seek out treatment quickly. Keep in mind that the early warning signs of schizophrenia can be indicative of many other issues, all of which may benefit from professional support.

Schizophrenia in pre-teens or teens can be tricky to diagnose because many of its earliest warning signs are behavioral and can be common within this age group. According to experts at the NIMH, a combination of factors can predict schizophrenia in around 80 percent of teens who have already been identified as being at risk due to family history. These include isolation and withdrawal, coupled with an increase in suspicious thoughts.

Most people begin to manifest symptoms of the disorder gradually, although this is not always the case. You may start to notice differences in behavior a long time before warning bells go off in your head. Some early warning signs of schizophrenia include:

  •        Irritability
  •        Changes in sleep patterns
  •        Social isolation
  •        Doing poorly in school
  •        Suspiciousness and concern that others are out to “get” me
  •        Hostile behavior
  •        Deterioration of personal hygiene
  •        Inappropriate emotional reactions, like laughing or crying
  •        Forgetfulness
  •        Inability to concentrate
  •        Odd language patterns that include made-up words and disorganized speech
  •        Depression

According to the NIMH, the symptoms of schizophrenia will eventually start to fall within three categories as the disorder progresses: positive, negative, and cognitive.

Positive Symptoms

People with schizophrenia may appear to lose their grasp on reality and start to manifest positive symptoms. These can be mild or severe and also may ebb and recede, seemingly without pattern. They include:

  • Visual hallucinations of objects or individuals
  • Hearing voices which may sometimes give orders and at other times, warn of danger. A very common symptom of the disorder, schizophrenic individuals may hear voices for a long time before those around them become aware of it  
  • Feeling sensations, like being touched, when no one is nearby
  • Smelling non-existent odors
  • Delusional thinking, including feelings of paranoia and irrational beliefs. These may include delusions of grandeur, or persecution. An individual with schizophrenia may also attribute Thought disorders that cause the person to appear incoherent, make up nonsense language or stop speaking abruptly in the middle of a sentence
  • Movement disorders such as odd repetitive motions or agitated body movement.  

Negative Symptoms

Negative symptoms can be insidious, affecting all aspects of daily life. They mimic depression and can include:

  • Flat affect, or lack of facial expressions
  • Little to no verbalizations and monotonous, dull speaking voice
  • Having no interest or an inability to get involved in day-to-day activities

Cognitive Symptoms

Cognitive symptoms are typically diagnosed via professional testing. They include:

  • Issues with working memory that result in an inability to process and utilize or act upon information
  • Executive function disorder which appear as an inability to make decisions  
  • Difficulties with focusing and an inability to pay attention to other people’s comments or a situation

If you suspect schizophrenia in your child, no matter what their age, finding professional help and support is of paramount importance. Schizophrenia never resolves or goes away on its own. As a caregiver, you will also benefit from outside support, either from professionals or other parents and caregivers. A good place to start is the National Alliance on Mental Illness which offers free regional support and educational programs for those with schizophrenia and their families. You can also join