Lack of personal hygiene, poor posture, and a sudden sensitivity to lights and sound are a few early signs of schizophrenia.

The early signs of schizophrenia vary widely from person to person. Some people show no signs prior to onset, while others exhibit subtle changes several years before psychotic symptoms appear.

Early signs may also differ based on the age of onset. A person who develops schizophrenia in early adulthood will likely have a much different experience than someone who develops the disorder in childhood.

Here are a few signs to look for in each age group.

Research suggests that about 75% of individuals with schizophrenia experience a prodromal stage (subtle changes in mood, thinking, or behavior) weeks, months, or even years before the onset of schizophrenia.

Prodrome is not necessarily a distinct set of symptoms but an evolution of symptoms that occur over a period of time. A person who develops schizophrenia at any age can experience a prodromal stage.

Schizophrenia prodrome may include changes in:

  • perception
  • attention
  • speech
  • movement

Childhood-onset schizophrenia (COS) is a rare and poorly understood condition. Research suggests COS occurs in about 0.4% of children and teens ages 5-18. It’s particularly rare among children under 6.

Compared to people with adult-onset schizophrenia, children and teens who develop schizophrenia tend to have more progressive brain changes and stronger genetic risk factors.

An older study from 2014 suggests that 67% of those with childhood-onset schizophrenia experience some social, movement, or language disturbances, as well as learning disabilities and mood or anxiety disorders.

The same study notes that 27% of children with COS meet the criteria for autism spectrum disorder before their first psychotic symptoms. It’s worth noting that this link was not found in children who eventually develop adult-onset schizophrenia.

Children with COS have many of the same symptoms as adults with the condition. But children are more likely to hear voices and less likely to have delusions or formal thought problems until they’re teens or adults.

Learn more about schizophrenia in children.

When a person develops schizophrenia before the age of 18, it’s called early-onset schizophrenia (EOS).

Symptoms may start suddenly or occur slowly over time and include:

  • extreme, persistent fear of certain situations or objects
  • poor posture
  • slow walking
  • extreme sensitivity to lights and sounds
  • auditory hallucinations (particularly whispering, collective murmuring, or loud sounds)
  • shutting out others and environmental surroundings
  • sudden shyness
  • visual hallucinations, like swirling or flashing lights or patches of darkness
  • difficulty distinguishing dreams from reality
  • paranoia
  • extreme moodiness
  • lack of emotional expression while talking
  • high levels of anxiety
  • trouble making and keeping friends
  • unusual behavior or strange feelings
  • sudden agitation or confusion

Teens with EOS typically aren’t aware that their symptoms are a cause for concern. It’s usually family and friends who recognize that something’s different.

Most people who develop schizophrenia will do so as young adults in their late teens to early 30s. Symptoms are generally the same as those seen in teens.

Some early potential symptoms include:

  • lack of personal hygiene
  • disorganized thoughts or jumbled speech
  • social isolation
  • socially inappropriate behavior or social responses
  • vacant facial expressions (flat affect)
  • social withdrawal or self-isolation
  • sudden extreme sensitivity to light and noise

When symptoms of psychosis start after age 45, it’s called late-onset schizophrenia. Late-onset schizophrenia accounts for 15-20% of all cases of schizophrenia.

Research suggests that late-onset schizophrenia is more common in women and involves:

  • more severe paranoid delusions
  • more severe visual, tactile, and olfactory (smell) hallucinations
  • less severe disorganization and negative symptoms

If schizophrenia-like psychosis begins after age 65, it’s often related to another condition, like dementia or other neurodegenerative disorder.

While schizophrenia can occur at any age, the average age of onset is in the late teens to early 20s for males, and late 20s to early 30s for females.

While possible, it’s uncommon for schizophrenia to begin in a person younger than 12 or older than 40.

If you or a loved one exhibits schizophrenia symptoms of schizophrenia, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible.

You can also talk with your primary healthcare professional. Depending on your symptoms, they may refer you to a psychiatrist who can help you get an accurate diagnosis.

Once a formal diagnosis is made, they’ll work with you to develop a treatment plan, which typically involves a combination of medication, therapy, and supportive care.

Learn more about how schizophrenia is treated.

Schizophrenia affects people of all ages, and the early signs of the disorder vary greatly from person to person.

But regardless of your age at onset, schizophrenia is a treatable condition. With the right medication, therapy, and support, you can manage your symptoms and lead a fulfilling life.