Diagnosis of childhood schizophrenia involves ruling out other mental health disorders and determining that symptoms aren't due to substance abuse, medication or a medical condition. The process of diagnosis may involve:
- Physical exam. This may be done to help rule out other problems that could be causing symptoms and to check for any related complications.
- Tests and screenings. These may include tests that help rule out conditions with similar symptoms, and screening for alcohol and drugs. The doctor may also request imaging studies, such as an MRI or CT scan.
- Psychological evaluation. This includes observing appearance and demeanor, asking about thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns, including any thoughts of self-harm or harming others, evaluating ability to think and function at an age-appropriate level, and assessing mood, anxiety and possible psychotic symptoms. This also includes a discussion of family and personal history.
- Diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia. Your doctor or mental health professional may use the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic criteria for childhood schizophrenia are generally the same as for adult schizophrenia.
The path to diagnosing childhood schizophrenia can sometimes be long and challenging. In part, this is because other conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder, can have similar symptoms.
A child psychiatrist may want to monitor your child's behaviors, perceptions and thinking patterns for six months or more. As thinking and behavior patterns and signs and symptoms become clearer over time, a diagnosis of schizophrenia may be made.
In some cases, a psychiatrist may recommend starting medications before an official diagnosis is made. This is especially important for symptoms of aggression or self-injury. Some medications can help limit these types of behavior and restore a sense of normalcy.