BACKGROUND Little is known about the long-term outcome of schizophrenia that has its onset during childhood and early adolescence (early-onset schizophrenia, or EO-SZ). Whether or not EO-SZ is an aetiologically separate form of schizophrenia (SZ) is unresolved.
METHOD The study was a 14.8-year follow-up, using methods such as systematic sampling, evaluation of possible non-respondent bias, consensus best-estimate diagnoses (DSM-III-R) made independently in childhood and adulthood, measures of positive and negative dimensions, of non-psychotic behaviour disturbances (NPBD) and of developmental problems before the appearance of SZ.
RESULTS There was high stability of EO-SZ (n = 40) diagnoses (mean onset at 14.0 years) until adulthood (mean age at follow-up 28.8 years) but a lower stability of positive and negative schizophrenic dimensions. There was a poor outcome of EO-SZ, a strong over-representation of males but few gender differences, and no effect of age of onset on clinical features and outcome.
CONCLUSIONS EO-SZ taken as a whole shows no qualitative differences to adult-onset SZ. However, a distinction through the onset of preschizophrenic developmental problems or NPBD might be a way to investigate heterogeneity within EO-SZ.