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Looking for childhood-onset schizophrenia: the first 71 cases screened.

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Child Psychiatry Branch, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.



To review psychiatric referrals to a study of childhood-onset schizophrenia.


Children and adolescents (N = 71) and their parents selected from a total of 260 patients referred to the National Institute of Mental Health between 1990 and 1993, with onset of psychosis at or before age 12 years, were screened in person, using the Schedule for Affective Disorders and Schizophrenia for School-Age Children-Epidemiologic Version, portions of the Diagnostic Interview for Children and Adolescents-Parent Version, and clinical interview. Best-estimate diagnoses using all sources of information were determined. Thought disorder was rated on a subset of subjects using standardized videotaped speech samples.


Interrater reliability (kappa) between two child psychiatrists for best-estimate primary diagnoses ranged from .65 to .81. Schizophrenia was diagnosed for 19 children who by history had had onset at or before age 12, but all were in puberty when interviewed. Affect disorders (N = 14) and Asperger's syndrome and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (N = 6) were also diagnosed. A large group of reliably identifiable children not completely described by any DSM-III-R category and provisionally called "multidimensionally impaired" (N = 21) with multiple language or learning disorders, mood lability, and transient psychotic symptoms was seen.


Childhood-onset schizophrenia is often misdiagnosed, perhaps is often misdiagnosed, perhaps because of the rarity of the disorder and the ambiguity in applying primary criteria. An array of developmental disturbances are seen with less pervasive childhood-onset psychotic symptoms.

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