Parenting A Child With Schizophrenia

Michael and Susan Schofield’s six year old daughter has schizophrenia. The LA Times has an article that describes what it is like to parent a child like Jani. The article describes what Jani was like as an infant, how her daily life is now, and the stresses involved with parenting a child with an extreme form of mental illness.

The article tells the story of Jani and her parents. It was clear right from the start that Jani was different from other infants. She didn’t sleep for more than half an hour at a time, and would scream if she was under stimulated. They would spend fourteen hours out of the house, to wear out their infant, taking her to anywhere that had a crowd. Jani would then sleep for a couple of hours, and it would start all over again.

At age three, Jani was having violent temper tantrums. She would throw her shoes at people. She once tried to push the car out of gear while her father was driving. She would go into rages, hitting, kicking, and scratching her parents. The typical disciplinary strategies that worked with most preschoolers: time-outs, rules, a reward for good behavior, simply did not work with Jani. For years, doctors did not know what was going on with her.

In 2007, a psychologist diagnosed Jani as having schizophrenia. Different medications were tried, with limited success. Her imaginary friends go away for a while, and return later. Or, they are replaced by new ones. She has continued to have extremely violent outbursts, and often tries to hurt herself. Eventually, an outburst at school led to having Jani sent to UCLA hospital. There she stayed, under the watchful eye of psychologists, for quite some time.

This is not how life is for all people who are schizophrenic. Jani is an extreme case. Only about 1% of adults have schizophrenia. Many of them first became ill when they hit their late teens or early twenties. Jani seems to have been born like this. The rate of onset in kids under the age of 13 or younger is around one in 30,000 to 50,000, and the illness exhibits as 20 to 30 times more severe than it would in adults. There is no cure for schizophrenia.

The Schofields have a second child now, who doesn’t have schizophrenia. Jani has left the hospital, not because it is safe to do so, but because there are no facilities that will take a child as young as her. To keep their younger child safe from Jani, and to keep Jani’s home life as stable as possible, the Schofields have resorted to living in two separate apartments. One is where the younger sibling lives. The other is where Jani lives. The rooms of the house are renamed to their equivalent at the hospital, and whichever parent stays with Jani is called “staff”. Each parent spends one day with Jani, and the next with her younger brother.

In the video that goes along with this article, you can see what a strain this puts on Jani’s parents. They don’t get to live together as a family, and they are under constant stress. The do not have any family that can help them, and there are no facilities that are willing to give assistance either. It is a very insightful article about what it is like to parent a child with a severe form of mental illness.