Information Sheet

Information Sheets – Schizophrenia
What is schizophrenia?
Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that causes a person to think and act
abnormally. It is rare in children less than 10 years of age and has its peak age of
onset between the ages of 16 and 25. This disorder affects about 1 percent of the
population, and thus high school teachers will likely see children who are in the early
stages of the illness. Schizophrenia can be difficult to recognize in its early phases,
and the symptoms often are blurred with other mental health disorders.
Schizophrenia usually comes on gradually, and teachers are often the first to notice
the early signs. The early signs are usually non-specific. For example, students who
once enjoyed friendships with classmates may seem to withdraw into a world of their
own. They may say things that don’t make sense and talk about strange fears and
ideas. Students may also show a gradual decline in their cognitive abilities and
struggle more with their academic work. Since the disorder can come on quite
gradually, it may be difficult to appreciate this decline in cognition without a
longitudinal perspective over several academic years. The typical onset period lasts
about 2 to 3 years. Some children show difficulties with attention, motor function,
and social skills very early in life, before the onset, whereas others have no problems
at all before the disorder sets in.
The signs of schizophrenia include hallucinations (hearing, seeing, smelling or feeling
things that are not there), delusions (fixed false beliefs); and difficulties in organising
their thoughts. A student may talk and say little of substance or the child may have
ideas or fears that are odd and unusual (beyond developmental norms). Many, but
not all students with schizophrenia may show a decline in their personal hygiene,
develop a severe lack of motivation, or they may become apathetic or isolative.
During adolescence the illness is not fully developed, and thus it is at times difficult
to differentiate schizophrenia from a severe depression, substance abuse disorder, or
bipolar disorder. Students who show signs of schizophrenia should be referred to
appropriately qualified staff.
Educational Implications
Students with schizophrenia can have educational problems such as difficulty
concentrating or paying attention. Their behaviour and performance may fluctuate
from day to day. These students are likely to exhibit thought problems or physical
complaints; or they may act out or become withdrawn. Sometimes they may show
little or no emotional reaction; at other times, their emotional responses may be
inappropriate for the situation. They may also have possible frequent or extended
absences from school for medical intervention and difficulties with relationships.
Possible Educational Adjustments
Educational adjustments are designed to meet student needs on a case-by-case
basis. Possible adjustments could include:
Help the student set reasonable goals
Be flexible, as symptoms may come and go – it may happen on a daily basis
Student Services, Department of Education, Training and the Arts
Information Sheets – Schizophrenia
Be accepting, caring and supportive – provide a safe environment for the
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
Assist the student with planning and organizational skills
Have additional materials, books, supplies available for the student to use if
he/she doesn’t bring them
Work with the student to relieve anxiety and have a plan if the student does
become overly anxious.
Socialising may be exhausting for this student – she/he may have difficulty
with groups or when everyone is excited, so plan accordingly
Give short, concise directions
Try to avoid sensory overload
Negotiated attendance (part day attendance) followed by a plan to gradually
re-integrate the student into a mainstream class/program when deemed
Identified potential triggers and cues for distress and/or violence by
conducting a Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA)
Virtual schooling
Reduction of subject load
Alternative assessment
Extended time for assessment - assignments, exams
Exemption or alternative arrangements (refer to QSA Policy for Special
Immediately addressing any negative behaviour by peers towards the student
Providing copies of class teacher’s or other students’ notes to cover
emergency absences where possible
Exit plan
Allowance of break periods as needed for rest and taking of medication
Access to external agency support (Child and Youth Mental Health Services)
Regular access to a guidance officer or school based youth health nurse.
Student Services, Department of Education, Training and the Arts