People who develop schizophrenia have often had cognitive problems in their childhood. Researchers from Duke University in North Carolina used data from a long-term study of 1,000 New Zealanders, born between 1972 and 1973. By the time they had reached the age of 32 1% of the participants had been hospitalised with schizophrenia and put on antipsychotic medication and another 2.5% met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder but had not received any treatment. Looking back at the childhood test scores of the participants who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia the researchers found that their verbal skills were poor at the start of the study and that they developed other problems as time went on including difficulties with memory and verbal processing. The children who went on to develop schizophrenia had early deficits in verbal and visual learning, reasoning and conceptualization that remained with them as they grew up. They also showed slower development than their peers in processing speed, attention, visual-spatial problem-solving and working memory. However, while 20% of children have some degree of cognitive problems only 1% of them go on to develop schizophrenia. So mass medication of children with learning difficulties would definitely do more harm than good. But if the link is substantiated it could add more weight to the arguments in favour of early intensive interventions for pupils struggling at school.
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