Psychosis - Early Onset

General Information

Psychosis involves an inability to assess what is real and what is not real and affects a child’s ability to meet the demands of everyday life. Psychosis is the result of disrupted neurotransmitter function in the brain. It can be genetically based or induced by the use of certain substances (e.g., hallucinogens) or by other medical conditions. It can be temporary (e.g., in the case of certain medical conditions) or chronic (e.g., as a result of schizophrenia.

General Characteristics To Look For

Children dealing with psychosis may

  • hear voices that no one else hears or see things that are not there
  • exhibit declining school performance
  • suffer from problems with memory, concentration, and organization
  • show a lack of attention to personal hygiene
  • exhibit a loss of the sense of self
  • believe that others can influence their thoughts or that they can influence the thoughts of others
  • believe that they are being watched, followed, or persecuted by others
  • feel that their thoughts have sped up or slowed down
  • withdraw and lack interest in socializing; erratic behaviour may result in rejection by others
  • exhibit loss of energy or motivation
  • act out sexual or aggressive impulses in an unpredictable and unusual manner, often directed toward family and friends
  • use confused speech or have difficulty communicating
  • lack emotional responsiveness or display inappropriate emotional display
  • display general suspiciousness
  • experience sleep or appetite disturbances
  • have illogical thoughts or speech (illogical thinking, vague or repetitive speech)

Impact On Student Success

  • Students may be hospitalized because of the seriousness and distressing nature of psychotic symptoms. Academic underachievement is a risk because of the disabling nature of the symptoms. The student may be unable to stay current with school work or complete assignments.
  • Medications for psychosis can cause slowing of cognitive functioning and other side effects that can interfere with academic performance.
  • Stay connected: do not allow the child or your own fears to break down ties with him/her.
  • Stay positive: it can be very hard for these children to manage their unruly brains. Provide reassurance that it is possible and that there is help for them.
  • Remember that children dealing with psychosis are children first.
  • Refer children who show early warning signs to mental health clinician
  • Break tasks down into smaller pieces, minimize distractions, have a plan to redirect the student to help him/her return to the task at hand.
  • Give short, concise directions.
  • Assist the student with planning and organizational skills.
  • Understand that students dealing with psychosis may require MODIFICATIONS and ACCOMMODATIONS to their school program.
  • Provide support with social problems (e.g., difficulty integrating into the student community, isolation from peers)
  • Provide professional development opportunities for staff.
  • Collaborate with parents/caregivers and community resources.
  • Modifying the school day may be a useful strategy, subject to consultation from school board staff and direction from the superintendent.
  • Provide information about your child, as well as related family history including any mental health concerns.
  • Advocate for the child.
  • Maintain communication between home and school.
  • Draw on community resources and support groups.
  • Provide assessment, treatment, and consultation as needed.
  • Facilitate referrals to specialized services and help build connections to supportive resources.
  • Work collaboratively with schools and families to help everyone work from an informed and proactive position.
  • Make services fit the child, not the other way around.
  • Increase communication to clarify roles, responsibilities, and limitations of each service’s mandate and resources.
  • Engage in ongoing joint training initiatives.
  • Focus on “UPSTREAM” awareness and response initiatives.