Hearing 'voices' common for children

kidsWhen young children hear voices, many parents rush to the psychotherapist for an expensive battery of tests.

While hearing voices can be a manifestation of schizophrenia, and so should not be ignored, a new survey out of the Netherlands indicates that while many children hear voices, few are bothered by them.

The study of 3,870 primary school Dutch primary school students, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, found that nearly one in 10 7- to 8-year-olds heard voices. But only 19% said the voices interfered with their thought process and 15% said they caused serious suffering and anxiety.

Boys and girls were equally likely to hear voices, but girls were more bothered by them. Urban children were less likely to hear voices than those who lived in rural areas, but the city dwellers were more likely to be disturbed by the voices and they were more likely to hear multiple voices speaking at once, a finding that concerned the researchers.The study is interesting news to Los Angeles-area author Hope Edelman, whose recent book, "The Possibility of Everything," traces her journey with her daughter to Belize, to essentially exorcise a particularly nasty imaginary playmate named DoDo via spiritual healing.

"What the (Dutch) study didn't talk about is what the kids were actually hearing (and) what the researchers speculate the cause was," Edelman said. "I'd be interested to know that because, from a western perspective, it's a hallucination, but in Belize it's so matter of fact that these are spirits talking."

Of course not everyone can afford tests even if the voices do seem seriously disturbing to a child. The U.S. Surgeon General has estimated that one in five children has a psychological disorder but that 70% of them do not receive therapy.

Edelman became concerned when Maya was 2 and her playmate, DoDo, became more aggressive. Schizophrenia runs in Edelman's family, so she did not take the situation lightly even though she generally had been advised that Maya's imaginary playmate was a normal developmental phase.

"My daughter seemed tormented; she would wake up with night terrors that he was trying to take her away," Edelman said. "It just really didn't add up to what the so-called experts were telling me to expect. It got...downright creepy."

After reading the memoir of a Belize healer, the family decided to give it a try. Treatment there involved an herbal bath, prayers and incense, Edelman said. At one point during the treatment, Maya let them know that DoDo was gone.

Because of the link between hearing voices and schizophrenia, which often fully emerges later in life, the Dutch researchers do plan to follow their study group for five years to see whether problems arise.
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