The study of 12-year-olds asked whether they had ever seen things or heard voices that weren’t really there, and then asked careful follow-up questions. The results, published in April’s Archives of General Psychiatry, found that nearly 6 per cent may be showing at least one definite symptom of psychosis.
The children who exhibited these symptoms had many of the same risk factors that are known to correlate with adult schizophrenia, including genetic, social, neurodevelopmental, family environment and behavioural risks.
‘We don’t want to be unduly alarmist, but this is also not something to dismiss,’ said co-author Professor Terrie Moffitt, IoP and Duke University. ‘It looks like a non-trivial minority of children report these symptoms.’
The children were participants in the long-term Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study, which includes 2,232 children who have been tracked since age 5 and reassessed at 7, 10 and 12. The study stems from research that the same group did earlier with a long-term cohort in Dunedin, New Zealand – the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study.
At age 11, those children were asked about psychotic symptoms, but the researchers waited 15 years to see how, as adults, their symptoms matched what they reported at 11. By age 26, half of the people who self-reported symptoms at age 11 were found to be psychotic as adults.
‘The findings provide more clues to the development of schizophrenia, but do not solve any questions by themselves’, said Professor Avshalom Caspi, IoP and Duke University, ‘psychotic symptoms in childhood also can be a marker of impaired developmental processes, and are something caregivers should look for. There is not much you can do except monitoring and surveillance but we feel we should be alerting clinicians that there’s a minority to pay attention to.’
The research was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, UK Medical Research Council, The National Alliance of Research on Schizophrenia and Depression, the Health Research Board of Ireland and the William T. Grant Foundation.
‘Etiological and Clinical Features of Childhood Psychotic Symptoms’, Guilherme Polanczyk et al, Archives of General Psychiatry, April 2010 can be downloaded here.
Notes to editors
King’s College London
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