Children develop differently based on their family environment, social settings, genetic history, life experiences, and physical and emotional maturity. Many children never experience traumas or abuse, while others face significant life challenges. The way in which these children cope with the stresses in their lives can often predict later psychological well-being. Children who externalize their emotions may exhibit problems with aggression and defiance. Those who internalize their feelings often have issues with depression and anxiety in later life. Some children even experience visual and auditory hallucinations. These psychotic-like experiences (PLEs) sometimes predict more extreme psychosis and the development of schizophrenia. However, hallucinations can also be relatively innocuous and common in children who never develop psychosis. Understanding how PLEs affect the risk of psychosis in adulthood is essential in order to provide early diagnosis and treatment to those most vulnerable.
Kristin Laurens of the Research Unit for Schizophrenia Epidemiology at the University of New South Wales’ School of Psychiatry in Australia sought to identify if PLEs predicted psychosis or other mental health problems, such as substance misuse and depression, by using a nine-item scale to measure. Laurens evaluated the PLEs of more than 7,900 children ranging in age from 9 to 11 years and found that the majority of the children, nearly 66%, had experienced at least one PLE.
The severity of the PLEs was gauged based on the nine items on the scale, which included internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Laurens found that the children with both auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions had the most severe PLEs. Although many of the children had one PLE, this could be attributed to normative development. Laurens believes that the nine items provide essential supporting conditions that can indicate which children are developing in ways that put them at risk for future psychosis and which are developing in ways that present little concern. She added, “Assessing PLEs during middle childhood is feasible and supplements information concerning internalizing and externalizing problems presented by children.” These specific factors could help clinicians identify which children should be monitored most closely for schizophrenia as they progress into adulthood.
Laurens, K., Hobbs, M. J., Sunderland, M., Green, M. J., Mould, G. L. (2012). Psychotic-like experiences in a community sample of 8000 children aged 9 to 11 years: An item response theory analysis. Psychological Medicine, 42.7, 1495-1506.
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