Hallucinations in Childhood: Normative Development or Predictor of Psychosis?

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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  • William p

    William p

    June 4th, 2012 at 3:12 PM

    Are we talking nightmares here or are these honest to goodness hallucinations? Because if my kid is hallucinating, then yeah, I am definitely worried that thid could turn into something more later on and I am getting him some help ASAP>

  • Kellie


    June 4th, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    The first thing that I would like to say is that the words hallucinations and children should not ever have to go together.
    But if they do, then you must find a way to get your child some treatment.
    How this could not be seen as indicative of future mental health issues would be to not see this situation at all for what it is.
    Having hallucinations is something that is very serious, and could indeed be a predictor for schizophrenia in the future.
    The sooner that there is a doctor to assess the situation and follow the child with treatment, the better the chance is that this child may can either lose that tendency or at least be able to control it in a manner that is more manageable than what others could experience.

  • Meredith


    June 5th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    I am sure that parents who have children who are experiencing this kind of debilitation hope sincerely that they will not have this on into adulthood. Has that ever been observed, that children could have something like this when they are young but never have to experience it again as they get older?

  • Samantha reeves

    Samantha reeves

    June 5th, 2012 at 3:47 PM

    The ways that we teach our kids to deal with their problems when they are children is so critical for the way that they will learn to deal with their problems when they are adults. If we teach them to not face their issues, then they will always think that they only way to deal is to run and hide. That’s not the lesson that I want my children to learn.

  • Jo


    June 6th, 2012 at 11:34 AM

    Don’t you think that if a child is experiencing something like hallucinations that this is going to concern you and you are not going to sit back thinking that this could just be something that is normal? I don’t personally know any parents who would look at their kids who are hallucinating and just wait to see if it passes. this is serious, and could ruin any chance that they have for mental normalcy in the future. At least take the time to get this child to a doctor and get a diagnosis quickly. This can either ease your anxiety and the pain that the child is feeling by experiencing such things, or it can help him to begin receiving treatment that is needed to help the hallucinations to stop.

  • Jenifer


    June 12th, 2012 at 7:15 PM

    As a mother of a now 14 year old who attempted suicide late last year, who began having auditory and visual hallucinations at age 6, I will tell you that if hallucinations are present, the child should be monitored. No parent wants to stand and see what I saw last September, a complete psychotic break and the development of what is most likely Early Onset Schizophrenia. I believe in alternative medicine, holistic healing and some traditional medical valuations, but the only thing that helped my son was Clozaril, and believe me, that is not a drug that is taken lightly. Early intervention is KEY to this illness.

  • Leyre


    January 23rd, 2015 at 4:08 PM

    Well in my case i had two episodes of auditory hallucinations when i was about nine or so (iheard whispers of an adult man telling me not to do what i was doing, both in stress situations i think, and in the same week)
    When i told my parents, they told me that i must have mixed up things, that i just was confused, i felt as if they didnt cared of me and i was too scared that noone will believe me and that i was going crazy; but it dindt happened again.
    A few years ago i remembered it and ask my parents about it. Aparently it also scared them a lot but they decided to act as if it wasnt importsnt so that i wouldnt panic and wait to se how it developed.
    I dont know if thst helped or not but i havent had any other episode; so yes, there are children who has gone through that kind of situation once and never again.

  • Ang L.

    Ang L.

    May 2nd, 2015 at 8:39 PM

    I have a 4 year old grandson. My daughter and I don’t get along at times she gets mad at me and will not let me see my grandson, for a year or longer. Just this past week he started with his hallucinations, such as shadows. And she just let him back into his life. I have been reading about this for about three hours now. This is something I have never experienced and I am a mother of four. Please help! Concerned Memaw …God bless!

  • Ang L.

    Ang L.

    May 2nd, 2015 at 8:40 PM

    Please help..

  • Lynda M.

    Lynda M.

    March 27th, 2016 at 6:27 AM

    I truly thought this happen. There was a brook running at the edge of our property that I wasn’t allowed to cross. One day I felt I had to and looked back at the kitchen window to make sure my mother wasn’t watching . She wasn’t so I crossed over it and walked into the woods for a few minutes. Then I came up to a house I’d never seen before. The family was on the deck which I’d also never seen before, the houses I’d seen had porches. They were very happy to see me. Father ,mother and two daughters. One of the daughters came down to me and Gave me some Lays potatoes chips. The mom said she needs to go now before they miss her so I walked back. There is no way that house existed. When I told my mom a few years later she said I just made it up. To this day I remember everything about it. Hallucination right?

  • Nick


    July 6th, 2016 at 4:39 PM

    less than a month ago my 10 year old son woke up in the middle of the night crying bcoz he was scared of something, then he rose up in the bed and jump then went back to me and embraced me…shoke him a little thinking that he would really wake up and so he calm down and went back to sleep… what really concerned me now that tonight he went tru that again and he don’t remember it ever happened… need info pls b4 il seek some professional advice…

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