Schizoaffective Disorder in Children: Symptoms & Treatment

Schizoaffective disorder is a serious mental disorder. It is comprised of two different facets – schizophrenia and a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder or depression. According to WebMD, it does not occur often in children, but is more likely to emerge as a child grows older. It is important to understand the causes, symptoms and treatments involved with schizoaffective disorder in children.

What is it

Schizoaffective disorder is one of the most difficult disorders to diagnose accurately and treat appropriately. One of the reasons is this disorder involves long term severe symptoms of a mood disorder as well as psychotic symptoms. At various times during the long course of the illness, schizoaffective disorder can resemble bipolar disorder, major depression, or schizophrenia.

There are two modes of Schizoaffective disorder, depressed type and bipolar type. The bipolar type accounts for less than five percent of all people with mental illness. In schizoaffective disorder, the patient suffers the symptoms of schizophrenia plus a mood disorder, predominantly at the same time, and the mood disturbance is chronic.  However, a distinctive feature of the disorder is that the patient may experience a serious psychotic break without a concurrent mood disturbance. This is typically what separates it from affective disorders, such as major depression and bipolar disorder. If the patient is encountered for the first time and is experiencing psychotic and delusional states without mood disorders, a clinician would be tempted to diagnose him or her as schizophrenic, but with a look back into the patient’s history and the discovery of a longstanding mood disorder, schizoaffective disorder is indicated. However, since long study of a patient is required to come to that diagnosis, much data must be gathered. Usually a schizoaffective person is given a different label before that of schizoaffective is decided upon, and that previous diagnosis is usually bipolar.

Causes

Researchers do not know the precise cause of schizoaffective disorder in children, however different factors may be at play. Genetics are suspected to play a part. A chemical imbalance in the brain is also thought to influence the development of this condition. Various issues in the environment like stressors, viruses and social situations can also be risk factors.

Symptoms

There are many different symptoms that occur in children with schizoaffective disorder. These may occur in cycles and can vary in severity, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health.

The schizophrenic signs that can be present include delusions, hallucinations, lack of motivation, speech problems, diminished emotions, thinking that is disorganized, and behavior that is unusual. The child’s parents or teachers may notice these.

If depression is part of the child’s condition, then he or she may feel and act sad and may feel guilty or worthless. Difficulty concentrating and sleeping can lead to poor performance at school. Depressed children may seem exhausted, sleep a lot and not be interested in activities that they once enjoyed. Their appetite may suffer, and weight changes can occur. In serious cases, they may even be suicidal.

Some children experience mania as part of their schizoaffective disorder. Symptoms include agitation, increased activity, quick speaking, less sleep, and reckless behavior.

Diagnosis

It can be more difficult to diagnose this disorder in children rather than adults since children may not be able to vocalize their symptoms as easily as adults. A mental health care provider will do a complete mental health evaluation if schizoaffective disorder is suspected. He or she may interview the parents about behaviors of the child. He or she will then ask the child about his or her feelings and actions.

Treatment

There is no cure for schizoaffective disorder, and children who have it may be affected for life. However, there are various therapies that can be effective and allow some to live normal lives. First, it is important for any child with schizoaffective disorder to be involved in mental health counseling. Parents should seek the services of a psychologist who can help the child with issues regarding his or her emotions. A counselor can help the child develop strategies to counter his or her problems.

Medication may also be used in the treatment. Mood stabilizers and anti-psychotic medications can be useful, but you must be careful. Many of the medications that are indicated for adults have not been tested in children. Also, some of the medications for depression and other mental health conditions have been shown to raise the risk of suicide in younger people, thus it is very important to be very careful when such substances are utilized. A psychiatrist can help prescribe the best course of treatment for your child.

In Conclusion on the Treatment Options

In treating the schizoaffective patient, often the psychiatrist will start with a novel (or newer generation)  antipsychotic. More than one may be needed if the patient is agitated. If the antipsychotic does not take care of the depression or bipolar disorder, the mood disorder, other medications must be used to deal with that. Depending on what type, depressed or bipolar, the doctor will probably prescribe precise antidepressants and possibly mood stabilizers. Ativan may also be used in agitated patients. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy are also very beneficial to the patient.

If you believe that your child is showing any of the symptoms of schizoaffective disorder it is important to get an immediate evaluation. The earlier you catch the condition, the better chance that treatment will be effective.

Possibly Skills on Schizoaffective Disorder

Interacting with Others is a skill requiring definition as to what is appropriate with others and what is not appropriate. Begin teaching how to define the relationship and what is appropriate to share. Meeting someone in a casual setting isn’t the person that you share the intimate details of your life. Sharing those details should be limited to close family, therapists and other professionals. Casual acquaintances would be best to share generalities.

Greeting and Departure Skills is often difficult for a person diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. Are they aware that they should begin a greeting before beginning a conversation without greeting? Role play is an excellent avenue for teaching this skill. What are the skills necessary to learn when and how to depart? Are they aware of the social cues that often occur when one or more people are together that indicate a need to leave.

Participating in Activities is often difficult if they are lacking in the greeting and departure skills. The lack in greeting and departure skills makes it difficult if not impossible for the person with schizoaffective disorder to engage in activities with others in small or large groups.

Accepting Compliments is a skill that is needed to learn how to accept and deliver compliments. The communication skills are often missing or lacking. Playing a game of saying compliments to each other and saying thank you after each compliment brings familiarity in hearing the compliments.

Expressing Feelings Appropriately begins with the person diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder learning what feelings are and should feel like. This is done by working with the person one on one describing the feeling-happy, when you are happy what do you feel? Then work on the individual identifying daily what he is feeling.

Optimism can be built on the Expressing Feelings Appropriately. If the person has learned the previously listed skills, they are often beginning to feel more optimistic about their relationships and their lives. This can be built on the previous experiences and reminding them how they felt when their outlook and experiences began to change.

Goal-Setting needs to begin with small, easily attainable goals. Success needs to be reached within a small period of time to encourage the individual. As the number of successes increase, the more challenging the goals need to become.

Managing Stress becomes easier with the skills the individual is learning. By learning how to converse, greet, depart, and express feelings, this individual is reducing the amount of stress he or she is feeling.

Relaxation techniques go hand in hand with managing stress. This will allow the person to learn how to take deep cleansing breaths, focus on situations where that lower the blood pressure and heart rate.

Requesting Help and Assertiveness tends to go together. As you learn to become more assertive you naturally learn how to ask for help when you need help from the appropriate source. Assertiveness is really the key to resolving most conflicts or issues in your life.

Being diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder can be devastating, but with training and support you can learn the skills needed to live your life to the fullest. Always seek mental health professionals for support and treatment with any mental health issues.

The Editor’s Words:

This disorder appears to have a strong genetic and biological link.  Those who developed it as a result of a stressor have a better outcome than those who were predisposed and had a previous personality disorder.  The bipolar type also has a better outcome than the depressed type.  The earlier Schizoaffective disorder is diagnosed and the fewer the lapses in medication, the better the outcome will be for the patient.  It is a challenge to live with such a disorder but with education, self-awareness, medication, family support and therapy, any mentally ill person can rise to the challenge and live a rich meaningful life.