We examined whether children who are diagnosed as having schizophrenia in adulthood could be distinguished from their peers on performance in elementary school.
We used a case-control study design nested within a population-based birth cohort of all individuals born in Helsinki, Finland, between January 1, 1951, and December 31, 1960. Case ascertainment was from 3 national health care registers. Elementary school records were obtained for 400 children who were diagnosed as having schizophrenia in adulthood and for 408 controls. Results were analyzed for the 4 years of schooling (ages 7-11 years) that were common to all pupils. School subjects were entered into a principal components analysis and produced 3 factors: academic, nonacademic, and behavioral. These factors were compared between cases and controls after adjusting for sex and social group. Eligibility for high school and progression to high school were investigated among cases and controls.
Cases performed significantly worse than controls only on the nonacademic factor (which loaded sports and handicrafts). There were no differences between the groups on the academic or behavioral factors, and there were no significant clinical correlates of factor scores. Cases were significantly less likely than controls to progress to high school, despite similar eligibility.
Poor performance in sports and handicrafts during elementary school, which may indicate a motor coordination deficit, appears to be a risk factor for later schizophrenia. Poor academic performance in elementary school was not a risk factor for schizophrenia in this study. Lack of expected progression to high school among cases, despite good academic grades, provides evidence for deteriorating premorbid functional adjustment in schizophrenia.