Schizoaffective disorder is a complex combination of schizophrenia and mood disorders, and difficult to diagnose because of overlapping symptoms. Each child’s symptoms are unique and morph over time. A parent must recognize the symptoms and discover how to reduce their impact… and distinguish them from typical troubled child behavior.
I raised a teenager with schizoaffective disorder who began hallucinating at age eleven but never reported it. She assumed it happened to everyone. I wasn’t aware for three years until she couldn’t hold it together anymore, and her A+ grades turned all F’s. She claimed words moved on the blackboard and voices drowned out the teacher. As symptoms progressed, she believed she was magical and superior to others. I also observed rebelliousness and suicidal thoughts.
This is what she experienced.

  • Hallucinations, voices, paranoia, and enchanted beliefs, such as love connections with celebrities. She told stories of life as a queen for 1000 years, and described it in extraordinary detail. She made accusations that I was trying to control her mind.


  • Depressive: suicidal thoughts and negativity. When depressed, my child darkened her room and slept all day in piles of dirty clothes, and got very angry if disturbed.


  • She sometimes never slept, and she described light speed thinking: “it’s like the TV’s on, the radio’s on, the stereo’s on, you’re talking to me, I’m reading a book, and can’t not think about every single thing.”

Lessons learned that may help you and your child or teenager with psychosis:

  • Take care of yourself first, and take care of siblings and other family relationships. You need to work as a team. Mental illness in the family can tear everyone apart.
  • Maintain a low key home environment. Reduce noise, harsh tones of voice, and frenetic activity.
  • Trust is everything. Build trust by asking for their opinions and needs, and responding to the ones that are realistic. Trust helps you help them to accept mental health treatment. It also helps prevent them from trusting inappropriate ideas or people that negatively influence their vulnerable mind.
  • Don’t challenge your child’s experiences even if they are strange. Just listen and keep them safe and get treatment. You want to know if a voice or feeling may lead to harm or a nose dive so you can prepare.
  • Ask what your child needs to behave safely. Listen without offering opinions. If you can’t accommodate them, work with them on something else that reduces distress.
  • Act on references to harm to themselves, or others, or property—this may be manipulation, but don’t take the chance. Make it safe to openly talk about self-harm.
  • “Inoculate” your child from cruel voices or thoughts–teach them to deny the power of a negative voice or thought and help them self-calm. Example: “I know [this voice or feeling] is bothering you, but you can stand up to it and say stop.” Or, “I know you’re terrified about this situation, so let’s make a plan to handle it together.”
  • Learn how to calm your child. Use a quiet and patient demeanor, affirm his or her feelings, show empathy, and don’t lecture. If they ruminate on a distressing issue, change the subject to prevent them from ruminating.
  • Help your child avoid over-stimulation from people or places they dislike. Go out of your way. Your goal is to lower stress, and model what they need to do to take care of themselves in the future.
  • Ask your child what they need to calm down. This could be anything–pleasant or ghastly music, curling up under a blanket, or taking a walk.
  • Ask for appropriate behavior. It’s possible to make a few rules if they are specific, but don’t justify yourself or explain your reasoning—this doesn’t work with irrational children. Examples: Anger is OK if not abusive to others. Fear is OK if they choose a safe reaction.
  • Difficult behavior is not always caused by the disorder because part of your child is still like ‘normal’ difficult children. Expect defiance and manipulation at times.

Schizoaffective disorder is lifetime and disabling, but my child eventually got on track and learned to manage mental health on her own and reach a place of well-being. It’s been a marathon for her family, but we know that long-term support will keep her safe.
American SPCC’s goal is to assist caregivers through parental education and awareness, and have a positive effective on the well-being of children, youth, and families in America. Imagine a world where all children have a safe, healthy childhood.  Click here to see how you can help make a difference in a child’s life today.

October 30, 2017